Bicol sculptors connect with God through religious images

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – For several decades now, the father and son tandem of Ramon Arnido Vibar, 62, and his son Michael, 25, have been the most sought-after sculptors in the Bicol region for their exceptional talent in breathing life into pieces of wood.

Their life-size images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and saints are fixtures in the Good Friday afternoon processions, with the sculptures placed on top of well-lit carriages and followed by hundreds of venerating devotees.

Every day, the two carve images of saints – locally called "paso" – for Bicol churches, families and individuals. Most of the images found in Bicol churches wre made in Kriscraft, the art shop that the father-and-son tandem maintains at the back of St. Gregory the Great Cathedral in Barangay Maoyod.

Ramon has been carving life-sized images for over 30 years, having started as his father's assistant. Michael, on the other hand, started practicing the art of cement sculpture at the age of 13, before later shifting to wood carving to help his father.

Family of sculptors

Ramon is the second-generation sculptor in the Vibar family. His father, Castro, was known as the genius sculptor of his time.

Castro was in grade school when he began forming the images of Rizal, Mabini, Bonifacio and other heroes.

His talent was discovered while he was studying in Albay Central Elementaty School in Old Albay District. He indulged in clay molding at that time.

In 1947, during the International Eucharistic Congress, he was accompanied to Manila by a certain Barcena who enrolled him in the fine arts program at the University of Santo Tomas.

His talent was recognized by his professor, Guillermo Tolentino, who taught him not only the theories but also the techniques of modeling and actual practice. The Vibar patriarch was also highly recognized by then Fr. Jose Sanchez, now the cardinal.

In the early 40s, Castro carved the images of St. Peter, St. James and other saints using clay-and-ash combinations. His works are venerated in processions, enshrined in Albay churches. They can also be found at the homes of families who own treasured religious images.

Some of his remarkable works were the images of Msgr. Jorge Barlin in Camarines Sur, which measured 6 feet in height; St. Joseph in Aurora Boulevard, Quezon City (21 ft); Our Lady of the Assumption in Guinobatan, Albay (6 ft); Apparition of the Miraculous Medal in Sucat, Paranaque (8 ft); the Crucifix in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Gate in Borongan, Samar (9 ft); Mary Magdalene of the Church in Pantal; St. Jude at St. Jude Catholic school in Legazpi City (8 ft); and Christ the Redeemer (6 ft).

HOLY IMAGES. Fr. Richard Benavente blesses the images created by the Vibars. Photo by Rhaydz B. Barcia/Rappler

HOLY IMAGES. Fr. Richard Benavente blesses the images created by the Vibars. Photo by Rhaydz B.

Barcia/Rappler

God's intercession

Since 1935, the Vibars have made about 1,000 images. Today, Ramon and Michael are famous sculptors in Bicol, known for putting God’s images into wood and cement.

When asked how they can create the beautiful images, Ramon attributed this to God’s intercession.

“Sometimes it appears through a dream. I’m just an instrument of God who has given me this talent to create his images and those of the saints from pieces of wood. Every time I go on with my works, I feel the intercession of God to perfectly create his image according to his likeness,” Ramon said.

Ramon added that creating images of saints, Mary, and Jesus is his way of communicating with God.

This Good Friday, the images made by the Vibars will once again be making the rounds of religious processions for the Holy Week. – Rappler.com