The inauguration of the newly conserved San Agustin choirloft last June 28 marks an important date in Escuela Taller history. Interestingly, this project was completed with the participation of skilled workers trained by Escuela Taller while being directed by a pool of consultants who are experts in various related fields.
Making good use of their training in carpentry and woodworking, Escuela Taller trainees and graduates worked on the 400 year old sillería ( wooden choir stalls) repairing the termite-ridden and damaged parts of these 68 -piece intricately carved chairs. They carved and replaced missing fragments as well as refitted and realigned these chairs.
Meanwhile, works were also done on the first bay of the arched stone vault of the church, which had been painted several times after the late 19th century trompe l’oeil work of Alberoni and Dibella—among others in the 1970s by Fray Niceforo Rojo, OSA and in 1990 by a young painter, Mr. Ben Cabisada. The 1990s work of Cabisada, which was an overpainting with latex paint, was flaking off and detaching itself from the stone vault due to humidity and moisture coming from leaks from the roof, water infiltration from poorly maintained windows in the main facade and water seepage from holes on the floors of the towers of the church. The then extant Alberoni and Dibella and/or Niceforo Rojo works were already disintegrated underneath the latest paint layers by Cabisada due to the trapped moisture and humidity caused by the use of latex paint.
The artist-consultant of Escuela Taller, Guy Custodio, and the painting restoration team had to duplicate as faithfully as possible the visible, flaking Cabisada layer incorporating available information or remaining evidence of earlier layers. This was done after problems of water leaks were addressed and the stone vault was consolidated. A proper substrate for the re-painting of the ceiling using the al secco technique was also prepared by Custodio and his team, who also worked with several experts and conservationists. Escuela Taller graduates were also mobilized in the process of preparing the vault and walls.
Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc. takes pride in the accomplished works, not only because a portion of a National Cultural Treasure and a Unesco World Heritage Site has been conserved but because needy young Filipinos made significant contributions to its conservation. The project has been a good learning experience for Escuela Taller trainees and graduates and has become an opportunity to refine their skills. It is a testimony to the effectiveness of the mission of Escuela Taller in providing opportunities to the Filipino youth through capacity-building which can eventually lead them to work in conservation or in general construction.
Dr. Esperanza Gatbonton led the whole conservation program of the choirloft, which was completed in 3 years . It was made possible by the grant generously provided by the Ministry of Labor of the Spanish government through the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID) together with funds from the Office of then Senator Pia Cayetano who is now District Representative of Taguig.
Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc and the San Agustin Museum are grateful to those who joined us in the inauguration.
Photo No 1: ETFFI Chairman Jaime Laya, Mr. Juan Pita, Secretary General of AECID-Philippines, Dr. Esperanza Gatbonton, Fr. Ricky Villar, OSA, His Excellency, Luis Antonio Calvo of the Embassy of Spain and Fr. Blas dela Sierra, OSA led the inauguration of the choirloft.
Photo No. 2 : Cong. Arthur Yap, ETFFI Chairman Jaime Laya and Ambassador Luis Calvo inspect the details of restored silleria