A Filipino Discovery

PI-Valley-Forge1I know just the perfect place where I can get myself enmeshed in culture, art, antiques and history of the Art and Culture of South East Asia. It is at the warehouse of the Richard Gervais Collection on Custer Avenue off Third Street in San Francisco.

Enjoying its environs has always been a conspiracy of my pocketbook, my sweeping and discerning artistic eye, and my persistence to finding the historical value of common and high culture artifacts. And of course, at Richard Gervais Collection warehouse, I can submerge myself in the historical moment of Asian Art. He has got items upon items of precious art pieces stacked up to the ceiling, onto rafters, and spilling out into the yard.

I came in and had an eye for a kind of gouache painting hanging up on the walls. I had always looked at it from afar every time I come. I was attracted to the sedate smile, lugubrious eyes, thin lips, and sartorial elegance of the portrait of a man.  Who was he?  How did his picture portrait get into Richard's warehouse? I had to see this portrait at closer range, so my Richard, ever the gentleman and great connoisseur of Art in Asia, took the item down.

PI-Valley-Forge6thWhat met my eye was an incredible find! When the frame was dusted off, an Art-Deco beautiful hand carved Narra wood frame emerged from the shadows of such exceptional workmanship! Every corner of the frame had a different design.  The wood frame showed various carved surfaces and no two surfaces are the same. What a treasure! Richard said he was attracted to the frame

However, for me, I wanted to know the subject. The portrait is heavily waterlogged, but the painter's brush strokes can still be seen. Is it oil? Watercolor? Gouache? I could see it was not painted on canvas, but I can be mistaken. It was signed in 1930, by a C. Rivera, but the mat and frame said 1932. Richard said, he'd research it further.

My mind went clicking fast forward and back. What historical event happened in 1930 that precipitated this subject to sit for a formal portrait? Was he a man of means?  Was he a part of the newly formed Philippine government that appointed Filipinos in higher offices?  That was at the height of the Philippine Commonwealth period under the US administration. Or, was he perhaps a wastrel who traveled to California, spent his father's money, dressed in a fancy tuxedo and sat for a starving artist friend from San Francisco?  My aim is to seek for historical answers in selected art pieces. This is what makes this place so appealing and compelling. I could write pages and pages of historical fiction just from Richard's fabulous collection of items.

I was offered a glass of red wine while tarried long in Richard Gervais Collection warehouse the whole afternoon of Saturday until it was time to close shop. I am really enamored of this place. If you have the opportunity to visit, you'll not be disappointed.

Penélope V. Flores, Ph.D.
Artist and Historian
Docent - Asian Art Museum
Professor of Education (Emeritus)
San Francisco State University

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