Ben Hur Villanueva
Ben-Hur Gorospe Villanueva, who was originally from San Mateo, Rizal, was a sculptor, painter, educator, lecturer, and art entrepreneur based in Baguio. Working only from memory, Villanueva was known to eschew drafts when he created his sculptures, preferring to let his mind wander and let his hands do the work.
Specializing in bronze, brass, metal and wood sculptures, Villanueva is best known for his 3-meter “Ang Supremo” sculpture of Andres Bonifacio in Bonifacio Global City, as well as the sculpture of the Risen Christ sculpture in Caleruega in Nasugbu, Batangas. Another notable sculpture of his is found at the entrance of Baguio’s Botanical Park called “The Builders.” This sculpture depicting Cordillera natives, Americans, Japanese, and Chinese men who worked together to build Kennon Road, is a collaborative work between him and his sons, Bumbo and Jik.
Villanueva also won a Gold Medal in Sculpture from the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) in 1984, with his work in black, wrought-iron metal titled “Protection.” The sculpture featured two children running in the rain, protecting themselves with a banana leaf.
Aside from being one of the country’s notable sculptors, Villanueva was also an art teacher at the Ateneo de Manila University, where he taught for three decades.
Upon retiring from teaching in 1992, Ben-Hur moved to Baguio City and put up an arts workshop, Arko Ni Apo (Ark of the Lord) Art Gallery, holding seminars and spearheading art-related activities catering to people ranging from professionals, educators, students, young artists, television/film writers and directors, street children, to various religious groups.
He always had a soft spot for the underprivileged, working with street children and with “visually impaired” or blind children. He was also active in the Cordillera community, particularly the Kankana-ey, reeducating the indigenous wood carvers on focusing techniques and design principles. He also gave seminars on alternative livelihood activities for the wives of the carvers, such as art weaving, batik-making and sandal-making.
Ben-Hur had also served as a president for the Society of Philippine Sculptors (SPS), as Art director for the Ephpheta Foundation for the Blind, Inc., and as Vice President-Treasurer for UNESCO’s International Art Association (IAA). He held regular art exhibitions around the Philippines, and also occasionally exhibited in New York, Paris, Tokyo, Singapore, Helsinki, and Havana.
Ben-Hur believed that all the things we deem ours are just borrowed, be it intangible or not. All for the greater glory of God. And so, the discipline of inspiring others through his talent had primed his being until he came home to his maker just before the pandemic.
He died on January 25, 2020 in Baguio City, Philippines.