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Reading Nation: On Amorsolos Illustrations for the Philippine Readers Textbooks In the years of the American Occupation, one

of the most important instructional resources used in Philippine schools was the Philippine Readers Series. The recent controversies regarding textbook accuracy serves as a reminder of the role of such basic materials in the formation of children. The Philippine Readers in their time determined what whole generations of Filipino youth would come to know about the world. The stories and illustrations helped mold the perspectives of a nation. The Series author, Camilo Osias, was one of the first scholars sent to study abroad after the American invasion of the Philippine Republic. He studied education at such schools as Columbia University in New York City. Upon his return to the Philippines he embarked on an illustrious career eventually becoming the first Filipino Superintendent of Schools. He was later elected Senator and even served as Senate President. It can be gleaned from the revised editions that Osias held copyright to the Readers material as early as 1919. A team of collaborators helped in the production of the Series. Teachers and officials from Abra to Davao are listed in the acknowledgements. To stress that he had not worked alone, Osias byline is followed by the phrase, And Others spelled out completely in upper case letters. Among those who helped the Series see the light of day was the artist, Fernando Amorsolo. One possible indication that the painter was already well-known at that time is the fact that, unlike the teachers mentioned above, he is credited on the title page as illustrator. In contrast, the illustrators of similar publications were not as lucky. In the Philippine Health Series of 1935 for example, one only knows that the artwork came from the hand of Ireneo Miranda because his signatures are clearly visible. It seems that Amorsolo wasnt just the projects illustator. He actually served as art director for the Philippine Readers. Osias explains that he selected some of the pictures for the stories which had been reprinted from foreign sources. Osias also explains in the preface of the 1932 edition of Book Two that Both the author and the illustrator, Mr. Fernando Amorsolo, being Filipinos, depict not only what they have heard and seen, but in many instances what they themselves have actually experienced. Both are aware of the things in Philippine and foreign life and literature worthy of transmission to Filipino children Clearly, the future National Artist participated actively in the creation of the Series. It seems that Osias involved Amorsolo in determining what was worthy of transmission based on their wide-ranging experiences. It can be noted that at least by the time the 1930s edition of the Readers had been published both Osias and Amorsolo had traveled extensively abroad. What then were these textbooks like?

The world of the Philippine Readers was filled with idyllic rural scenes, historical tableaus and vignettes from fantasy and fancy. Given the innate power of visual images, it may be posited that Amorsolos drawings truly helped shape the consciousness of young people who would grow up to lead the nation. It should be remembered that the generation that studied the readers were members of a new elite, educated by the American regime to play important roles in society. What Amorsolo depicted corresponds with the main body of his works as outlined by scholars. In the Readers one encounters countryside panoramas filled with carabao, ricefields, bahay kubo and bamboo. One also sees the painters favored rendition of the Filipina. As discussed by art historian Alfredo Roces, Amorsolos idealized portrayal of Philippine womanhood had features similar to that of Miss Universe, Gloria Diaz. The artist usually drew the women in the Series wearing barot saya, the local costume. In contrast, some of the men are shown in Western suits complete with neckties. One notable exception would be an illustration of students in a school yard. The childrens attire would have been easily recognized by their counterparts in California. Interestingly, in a story about a human-like pig, the creature is shown wearing a tapis! Some of the illustrations can be quite dramatic and even dark. In Book Five, for example, a terrifying giant is seen creeping up on a little boy cowering in a cave. One can just imagine what kind of nightmares such an image generated among its juvenile audience. In the same book is one of the loveliest images in the Series: Jose Rizal being taught how to read by his mother, Teodora Alonso. Dona Teodora is depicted wearing the fashion of the 19th century complete with the large striped skirt. Her arm lovingly encircles the young Jose whose shirt is also striped. A background of bamboo completes the picture. One cannot help but recall similar images of St Anne teaching the young Mary to read, a well-loved illustration of the resiliency of the Divine Word. Could Amorsolos image have been an allusion to the holy mother and daughter pair? Amorsolo also produced images of Pre-Hispanic Filipinos. This was very much in keeping with his major works in oil like Early Filipino State Wedding, Traders and Sikatuna. Similary, the painters iconic 1922 work, Rice Planting which has been described as one of the most popular images of the Commonwealth Period finds its counterpart in a harvest scene in Book Four which accompanied a piece entitled, Secrets About Growing Rice. More research will have to be done to determine when the illustrations for the Series were made. The few drawings associated with the Philippine Readers reproduced in Roces seminal book on the National Artist are dated 1932. Yet one source points out that by the 1930s, Amorsolo had already been so successful that he could afford to give up commercial work. Furthermore, it should be considered that the Series material had copyright dates not only in 1919 (as already mentioned) but throughout the 20s as well. What is quite evident was that a kind of cross-fertilization was going on between the Amorsolos illustrations for the Readers and his paintings.

Alice Guillermo and Rene Javellana, writing in the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art credit Amorsolo as being the first to extensively portray traditional Filipino customs and manners, fiestas, and occupations like fishing, planting, going to market, washing laundry, cooking and reading. It may be posited that the painter was actually tapping into an important need of a Philippine society that was gradually become more aware of itself. It was an awareness that was, however, tempered by the agenda of the American colonizers. From the early days of the Occupation the American overlords had been busy charting and photographing their new colony. Nothing escaped the acquisitive imperial eye, not markets and fruits, volcanos, exotic costumes, house interiors, forms of transportation, half naked bathers. Documentation meant ownership and a whole new wonderland was just waiting to be described, pictured and therefore owned. The first coin produced by the American authorities was a woman with an anvil indicating the colonizers stress on productivity. In the background one spies a mountain whose perfect cone identifies it as Mount Mayon. The message is clear: both woman and tumescent geographic feature are now part of this new insular possession. This then is the realm of Amorsolo. It is no accident that among his most enthusiastic clients were American officials and tourists seeking the perfect souvenir of their sojourn in this new Paradise whose annexation had catapulted the United States into the world stage as an imperial power. Interestingly, American visions of what was supposed to make up the Philippine world would be passed on to the Filipinos themselves. This is not surprising given how much more people had been reached by the American machinery compared to that of the Spanish. Through a revitalized and democratized education system and with the advancements in photography, a whole generation of Filipinos was learning how to look at itself as dictated by the colonial framework set by the American masters. In many ways, the drawings in the Readers helped form the self-images of young girls and boys in the Philippines. Nipa huts, bamboo groves and carabao would dominate the collective nostalgic imagination of a whole country. Fernando Amorsolo is known for his many iconic oil paintings. The images encountered in his works are acknowledged pillars of the national pantheon. At the same time, the amazing prices that these pieces command on the market help contribute to the Amorsolo legend. Yet one might ponder just how many members of the general public have actually seen an actual painting by the Master? It can be argued that, though paintings have been reproduced in the mass media, many more people may have actually been exposed to Amorsolos work through his illustrations in the Readers. Likewise, given that this exposure would have occurred at a young, impressionable age and that it would be sustained for many years then it becomes clear that the books of the Series have contributed much to securing their illustrators place in the Philippine Art scene. Could one even dare suggest that Amorsolos school book illustrations would help mold Filipino tastes and perhaps lay the groundwork for the popularity of his paintings among future art patrons?