Ilocos Norte’s global art heroine reveals path to success

By Grazielle Mae A. Sales, PGIN-CMO

“Everyone possesses talents even before she is born to the world. Other people either forgot them or failed to put them to good use,” said Lucia Najera Mangapit Valdez, the Batac-born global painter and fashion designer who stunned the world during the post-war era.

Having nurtured an array of talents and skills such as designing, tailoring, sculpting, singing, dancing, photography, poetry writing and painting, Lucia is a living testament to the limitless potential any Filipino can have.

The path to success for Lucia started when she was only seven years old when she pulled down the curtains of their house and turn them into dresses. Upon discovering their daughter’s promising art prowess, Lucia’s parents gave her their support.

A couturier in her twenties, Lucia established a premier boutique along Lepanto Street, Manila that sold haute terno—a formal dress which has evolved from the native baro at saya ensemble. Among her clients were wives of lawmakers.

A few years after migrating to the United States of America, Lucia’s fashion taste won her numerous foreign clients including the wives of ambassadors and the then famous American TV host, “Inga” who helped her stage her first fashion show in Washington D.C. that featured Caucasian models.

She became the first Ilocana to earn arts and design degrees from prestigious schools such as the American University and the Traphagen School of Fashion in Broadway, New York. She was also offered to undergo training with Hattie Carnegie but she fell in love and got married.

“I was very attractive to the media which is a rare opportunity for Filipinos [in USA] not until the end of the war,” Lucia said, referring to The Washington Post which announced her engagement and marriage to Casimiro Valdez in 1951.

Casimiro was the uncle of two former Philippine presidents, Fidel V. Ramos and Ferdinand E. Marcos, thus Lucia became closely acquainted to each of them.

Lucia recounted that the late former president Marcos was “a good and intelligent man”. She was once a dance partner of Ferdinand E. Marcos when they stayed in the Ramoses’ residence in the late 1940s. Former president Ramos, on the other hand, is Lucia’s most favorite nephew.

Lucia recalled that when the work of her husband began to get in the way with her career in fashion design, she found her way back to a another talent—painting—which was inspired by the places she and her husband visited.

From still life to abstract, lively colors to moody, her paintings awestruck the people she met during their travel. Her highly-dynamic style in painting was widely praised in Germany with critics branding her as the Ilokana Impressionist in Europe.

She is also the first Filipino to make it into the London art scene when her paintings were featured in exhibits by the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Hesketh Hubbard Art Society and the acclaimed Chelsea Society. Some of her paintings now hung in several homes, offices and galleries in the world.

A legend at 95, Lucia is now staying at the Spanish-style bricked abode of her granduncle, the late Aglipayan supreme bishop Servando Castro in Barangay Ben-Agan, Batac City. The garden surrounding the house is the grandest among the neighborhood—a signature of an artist deeply connected with “nature”, which Lucia reveals to be the inspiration for most of her paintings.
The house interior gives visitors a museum-feel: her paintings hang on panels and on every wall; her vintage loveseats and rattan chairs line up near the entrance to welcome guests; the two armories which house the porcelain dolls and other antique souvenirs she collected from different countries are testaments of her adventures and triumphs as a celebrated artist.

Now at 95, Lucia has retired from activities which require physical strength including tailoring and painting. Nonetheless, the art heroine’s vivacity in conversation remains incredible.

Whenever a guest comes in to check on her artworks, Lucia herself guides them through and elicits from them their interpretations of her paintings. This is because for her, a “painting can have multiple meanings” and that she can only know her painting’s worth by how her audience appreciates it.

Lucia is an excellent storyteller as well. In one comfortable sitting, she can narrate countless first-hand stories about the war and some of the most important people in Philippine history including Gregorio Aglipay, the father of the Philippine Independent Church who also hailed from Batac.

For Lucia, Ilocanos are talented and versatile and to attain great achievements, one must “know her roots”, and complement hard work with “patience”.
Molded by time and wisdom, Lucia considers fear as the ultimate culprit that separates a person from his or her dreams. “If you have talent, don’t be afraid to pursue it,” she said.#