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A Tribute to Manuel Rodriguez, Sr.

On May 6, the art world mourned the demise of Manuel Rodriguez Sr., the “Father of Philippine Printmaking”. The news came in from Florida where “Mang Maning” spent the last years of his life.

Being called the “father” of printmaking, speaks more of his penchant for teaching and mentoring the younger generation artists who like him, underscored the eminence of printmaking or graphic arts as a legitimate form and platform for artistic consciousness and appreciation. Historically, it is all the more appealing to retrace the life and practice of an artist whose context can be pinpointed to the beginnings of the medium in which he made most impact. This is true for Rodriguez, whose efforts arguably directed the course of printmaking in the Philippines.  This is echoed by Purita Kalaw Ledesma’s words, “contrary to the ordinary concept of how a man born to lead should be, Manuel is gentle, self-effacing to the point of shyness. Yet this deceptive exterior hides a firm determination and strong will” – so much so that he opted to learn a new art form that had no certainty of being well-received in his home-country where painting dominated in terms of the demand.  

Art critic and editor Leonidas Benesa (Archipelago, 1977) relates “obsessed with bringing art to the masses, he decided not so much to give up painting as to appropriate it through the multiplier effect of reproducing works in folios or editions, each piece identical to the other but retaining its originality.” In part, he also drew value in the twofold nature of prints in that it combines the capacities and limitations of the hand of the artist and the machine. Likewise, he saw the potential of graphic prints as means to propagate Philippine art and culture locally and abroad because its production was relatively faster and cheaper.

Mang Maning: In Text

Exhibition opening at the Lopez Museum Gallery in 12 Aug 1988. (L-R) Dr. Genevieve Huang, Mrs. Rodriguez (wife of the artist), Elvira G. Reyes, Margot Fragante, Zeny Cipriano and Lynn Erba. Image courtesy of the Lopez Museum and Library (Manila Chronicle Archive).

Although the Lopez Museum does not have a Rodriguez in its permanent collection, the relationship between the artist and the institution was perhaps cemented back in 1988 through the efforts of the then Board of Trustees of the Eugenio Lopez Foundation Inc.

An article in Manila Chronicle (Aug, 1988) reveals that Mang Maning had a month-long exhibition at the then Lopez Museum Gallery. Titled Prints and Paintings on Paper, it featured 27 works – all prints – that he made in New York, where he had been based since 1975.

A number of references on Mang Maning is available to the public through the Lopez Library, including the personal and in-depth narrations of his illustrious career as a family man, creative and teacher in Beatrice Harding’s Survival Through Art and Lenore RS Lim Foundation for the Arts’ Manuel Rodriguez, Sr.: Into the Threshold featuring essays by friends and students including Imelda Cajipe Endaya and Eva Florentino. In the latter, one of his known protégés, Virgilio “Pandy” Aviado loving writes “Mang Maning is the role model of someone who listened to his vocation…for many artists whose souls he has touched, he is a legendary hero.” With his students and his works, Mang Maning lives on.