Friday, April 30, 2010


Last January 17th I received the following e-mail:
Dear Melanie,
My husband & I are from the UK & we are doing our family history. I googled Deaconess Anne Hargreaves & saw your blog and, read with interest all about your work.
My husband has family connections with the Deaconess as she is his great aunt. His grandfather was taken from the UK by Anne, to help out the very poor family he came from, to New York & he stayed with her until he was old enough to come home & work. She was a very big part of his life & came back to see him right up until just before she died.
We have a few pictures of her & St James as it was, as well as the letter from the hospital in the Philippines explaining to Grandpa how she died,we are now presuming he was her next of kin & that's how he got all the pictures, a lock of her hair & other things. I wondered if you would like to see the pictures. I could e-mail you them if you like. I am not sure if you are still there as I wondered if you could take a picture of the cross at her grave for us.
She sounds a wonderful person & as a family, we are very proud of all her amazing work.
With many grateful thanks
Glynis Ellis
Seeing as how Deaconess Ann Hargreaves was a missionnary of Besao back in 1911 who helped to establish St. James High School, I was shocked and amazed at the power of the internet in that moment. Immediately filled with excitement I relied:
Dear Mrs. Ellis,
I am so very happy to hear from you! You and your husband both should know that Besao is steeped in rich memory of Deaconess Anne Hargreaves. Even the small children here know of her as a legend. Of course I will take photos of her cross for you all. This April, St. Benedict’s Parish will be celebrating their centennial, in which they will commemorate the deaconess and her service to Besao. I know that it is a great thing to ask, but we would all be so honored if you and any of your family members would be able to join us in this momentous occasion. People will be coming from all over the world! During the centennial, there will be a photo exhibit and I would love if you could contribute your photos of the deaconess! People would be so thrilled to see them. I would like to send you a formal invitation to the centennial if you would be willing to send me your mailing address. What a blessing it has been to have received an e-mail from you. It truly is a small world! I hope that we can continue to be in communication in the near future.
Melanie Jianakoplos
These are just a few of the photos which I received from the Ellis’How incredible it is that we were able to find each other. As the months flew by we worked as a community to prepare for our centennial celebration. We found that a lot can happen in 100 years! So much in fact that it took us two full days to celebrate the centennial at St. Benedict’s Parish. On the first day, April 10th, we had a parade from the Municipal Hall to the church, a morning worship service, registration, and cultural dancing presentations. The next day we had high mass, with the Prime Bishop and Diocesan Bishop, launching of the Gowen Foundation for St. James High School, the reading of the history of St. Benedict’s, and the unveiling of the centennial marker.That night we had a great bonfire and danced late into the night. The gongs beating so loud that I’m certain you could hear them in Sagada. The celebration was incredible. People spent hours on end telling stories of the “good ole days” as they shared meals and laughter.The highlight of my week was the friendship that I formed with the Gowen family. Among them were: Geoffrey Gowen and Ann Gowen Combs (The children of the late Rev. Vincent Gowen), Geoffrey’s daughter, Laura Gowen Brisbane, and two of Ann’s sons, Geoffrey and Dave Combs. Geoffrey and Ann were born and raised in Besao until the ages of 8 and 10 when, along with their parents, they were forcibly removed to a Japanese internment camp in Baguio City.When I arrived in the Philippines, My close friend and sponsor, Atty. Floyd Lalwet, gave me a book that changed my life in a way that few books have. It was entitled Sunrise to Sunrise. It is a compilation of the memoirs of the Rev. Vincent Gowen when he served as a missionary in Besao from 1927-1942. In his book, he writes all about the native culture of Besao, its landscape, and its secrets. He had the most wonderful things to say of this cool and peaceful place. In his journal he wrote of Besao:
“It was to be my home, so deeply the centre of my affection that, even after years of separation, no other home can supplant it in my heart, in the love I feel for its people.”
I keep wondering to myself, if father Gowen could have only imagined that 68 years after he left Besao there would be a 23 year old woman from Missouri serving as a missionary at St. Benedicts…
Spending time with the Gowens was surreal. Our time together was filled with stories of mystery and excitement, wonder and praise of this place. A place that only felt like home to a handful of white people, and there we were together, holding hands. We went everywhere together. We ate the Yogurt House in Sagada about ten times. We went to the Lang-ay festival in Bontoc. We took a trip up a sacred mountain and tumbled down it twice as fast as we went up, but that story deserves its own blog. We shared an adventure together!
It was as if I had come full circle. There I was the first lay missionary of the Episcopal Church in Besao since World War II and I had been blessed with the friendship of the descendants of the two most influential missionaries in the history of Besao. And it only took 100 years.
Melanie West Goes…Centennial
If you have the opportunity, read the book Sunrise to Sunrise, By Vincent H. Gowen,
ISBN 142510520-3
It will give you amazing background and perspective of the place where my adventures unfold.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


In 1942, when the Japanese forced the Gowen family to leave Besao and live in an internment camp in Manila, the people of Besao gathered the Gowen’s most prized possessions from the rectory. Risking their lives, they snuck off into the mountains, buried and hid that which they had collected, in hopes that someday they would be returned to their rightful owners. Included were: fine china sets, jewelry, birth certificates, baptism, confirmation, and marriage records of St. Benedict’s Church dating back to 1910, and one lone painting given to Rev. Vincent Gowen by his wife.
Years later, when the war had ended, the Besaos went back to the mountains, turned the soil yet again and there emerged the boxes that they had buried that fateful night. They had survived the war together.
Shipped off to the United States, the painting hung in the Gowen family home in Seattle, Washington for the past sixty years.
This April, the painting, informally called “The Lady,” returned home to the Philippines for the Centennial Celebration of St. Benedict’s Parish. Many of the Besaos that hid the painting at the brink of WWII are still alive today, and were so thrilled to see the painting again. A painting that they risked their lives to preserve.We had a reception and blessing of the beautiful piece at Brent International School Reflection Center in Baguio, the Episcopal school where the painting is to be housed.The painting will hang in the reflection center for two reasons. First, because it is a more secure place, and second, because it is more accessible to those who wish to marvel at its beauty.
The Episcopal Church in the Philippines is praying that people from all over the world will be encouraged to donate to St. James Episcopal High School in Besao on behalf of “The Lady” and her incredible story. As a teacher at St. James, I have discovered that it costs less than $100 to send one student to our school for an entire year! If you would like to sponsor a student of St. James Episcopal High School, I would be proud to assist in the formation of that special relationship.
At the reception, the school’s visual and performing arts teacher, Mr. Bob Joaquin, gave a reflection on the painting. This is what he had to say, “When I pulled this painting out of the box with the help of Mrs. Daoey last Saturday and finally saw it, I immediately looked for the famed signature. When I found it and it matched how he signs his works, I just had to do what I was not supposed to do, to touch it, very gently.
It was painted in 1915. Amorsolo was 23. The peculiar lighting of the painting from the inside out was very subtle. Something that took some 15 years more to become his artistic trademark and greatest contribution to Philippine painting.
I have never seen this painting in print so I suggested to Mrs. Daoey to have it authenticated at the Central Bank Main in Manila. That way, its existence will be acknowledged and recorded. Pretty much like people, masterpieces like these don’t exist without ‘birth’ certificates’.
Fernando Amorsolo painted the Filipinas as mestizas with round faces and lively eyes like most of his family members. He never painted them chinky eyed. With ‘The Lady’, we will never know. He rarely painted them dark skinned too, instead, often in blushing peach. I am sure ‘The Lady’, as she is fondly called by the Gowens, was all that when she was younger. The time film on the painting has muted the vibrant colors substantially. And it could have been retouched with much more care. I actually volunteered to retouch the ‘The Lady’ to Mrs. Daoey-going as far as telling her I could replicate her for security reasons.
Amorsolo was educated in the classical tradition and has always rejected the Western ideals of beauty in favor of the Filipino mestizos and mestizas. Nevertheless, he was the favorite Filipino artists of the Americans during the Commonwealth period. To my knowledge there is only one other painting by Amorsolo in Baguio. It depicts General Yamashita’s surrender to the Americans. It hangs in the living room of the American Ambassador’s Palace in Camp John Hay.
Critics are one in saying that Amorsolo’s best works are those of his early days as a painter. ‘The Lady‘, was painted when he was barely 23. And I am pretty sure that unlike his later works, ‘The Lady’, was painted from life.
When a painter paints, he wants to record or preserve what he saw for others to see. Most of the time we painters paint what to us are fleeting moments or scenes we believe are beautiful but aren’t going to be there for us to see for more than a lifetime. We call them endangered scenes. True enough for Amorsolo and his ‘lady’, you don’t see maidens washing clothes in rivers these days, not here, not even in the provinces and certainly not in the nude. Not only are we running out of rivers fit to wash in, ladies would rather leave the washing to machines nowadays.
The most expensive Amorsolo was bought for U.S. $377,947 at Christie’s in April 2002. It was a portrait of a woman. It is humbling to be hanging next to an Amorsolo inside this reflection center. The only other painting in this room being mine.
To the Gowen family, thank you very much. I can’t wait to bring my art students over to meet ‘The Lady’, and the most important Filipino painter of all time.
It’s a great afternoon. It’s unbelievable.”
It is quite an unbelievable story, but this is quite an unbelievable place! The people of Besao have a rich history that is not spoken of nearly enough. I hope that you will read Rev. Vincent H. Gowen’s Book, Sunrise to Sunrise, and become even more amazed at this place and these people who have become a part of me in the way that they were a part of him.
Melanie West Goes…Amorsolo

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Holy Week

I gave up writing on my blog for Lent, but I guess it doesn’t count because it was unintentional and it’s not a sinful act. The truth is, it’s hard to observe the Lenten season when it’s 80 degrees and sunny every day. Not to mention the countless town fiestas and weddings which we attended during those 40 days. When Holy Week came the mood changed. People came together in a more reverent manner.I had the privilege of washing the feet of the 12 representing the apostles of Christ. We performed the passion completely through song, and we stayed in the church for hours and hours on Good Friday. The Stations of the Cross led us on a long walk to a clearing on a mountain which the Besaos have preserved as their very own Calvary.There, a large cross stands among the pine trees. We crowned it with a wreath of bright pink flowers gathered by the old women just after dawn.Easter morning came as gloriously as it should. The bells rang with such zeal and vigor that you felt them shout, “Christ is risen!” The Lord is risen indeed.Melanie West Goes…Holy Week

Thursday, April 15, 2010


“Lang-ay” meaning to invite your friends and family into your home to eat and share stories, now serves as the name of an annual festival in the Provincial Capital of Bontoc. Showcasing all that is “Igorot” I felt completely immersed in the Cordilleran culture with street dancing, ritual performances, gong playing, and of course, the most delicious of foods. The photos tell the story…have a look.

Melanie West Goes…Lang-ay