The Philippines is known for its rich cultural heritage. For centuries, this has been manifested through artisans in the Philippines or skilled trade workers who create beautiful crafts by hand.

Across the country, there are several local and famous Filipino artisans whose work is prized for their detailed craftsmanship. That said, despite their unique mastery of skills, a common struggle they share is the declining demand in artisan craft production and consumption due to various developments in the modern era.

Aside from their rich history of creating intricate handicrafts, the work of these Filipino artisans also deserves honor and recognition for preserving Filipino traditions and culture. Below, we list down some famous Filipino artisans and their crafts, and include a glimpse into their meticulous but highly-rewarding process.

Local Artisans in Luzon

close up of a hand weaving thread

Nelia Ardaniel: Inabel and Binakol Weaving

Nelia Ardaniel is an Inabel weaver from Abra, a region that is also well-known for Cordillera weaving. She owns and manages Nelia Ardaniel’s Loomweaving, a micro-enterprise in La Paz, Abra that employs local weavers from different generations.

Coming from the Ilocano word abel (weave), “inabel” can be interpreted to mean a kind of sturdy but wearable textile found in the Ilocano provinces of the Philippines. However, the term has eventually developed to refer to a style of weaving that is distinctly Ilocano.

A popular variation of the abel weave is the binakol (also known as binakel, binakael, or binakul), which features geometric patterns similar to those of optical illusions. This psychedelic design is meant to represent waves, and its confusing pattern is believed to protect the wearer from malicious spirits.

As an artisan in the Philippines, Ardaniel has been practicing the art of inabel for more than 60 years. She continues to keep the spirit of her culture alive by collaborating with different organizations and participating in exhibits that aim to bring traditional weaving to more Filipinos in the modern world.

person's hands doing a jar pottery

Fidel Antiporda Go: Burnay Pottery

Another noteworthy local artisan in the Philippines is Fidel Antiporda Go, whose legacy at Ruby Jar Factory is highly valued in Vigan’s commitment to preserve its culture. In 1990, Go was recognized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as a National Folk Artist, for his exceptional skill and work in the burnayan.

Burnay (jar) production was originally introduced by Chinese migrants in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur from the 18th to 19th century. These earthenware jars were traditionally used as food and water containers, since their wide shapes, narrow mouths, and flat bottoms were ideal for the storage and fermentation of sugarcane wine, fish sauce, and vinegar. The Bantug clay used to make the jars is formed with the artisan’s hands while a potter’s wheel is operated by foot. Afterwards, the jars are air-dried, and then finally cooked in a kiln.

Because of Go’s work, burnay tradition has been preserved until today. Vigan City is widely known across the country for its incredible handmade pottery, which delights local and international tourists alike.

Local Artisans in Visayas

Capiz shell lantern with nice bokeh

James Gabriel Mamalias: Capiz Shell Crafts

Hailing from Argao, Cebu, James Gabriel Mamalias is an engineer, artisan, and owner of Capiz Shell Furniture where they use artisanal techniques passed down through generations. They carefully select capiz shells and then glue them together, using them to form a sheet that can be cut to create furniture such as dividers, doors, lights, mirrors, and tables.

Another traditional use of capiz shells is for lampirong, an architectural style that incorporates the shells into windows. Coming from the Tagalog words lampa (shells) and ring (window), lampirong is commonly seen in preserved historic buildings around the country. Lampirong windows are typically made using olivella shells, which have a shiny and sparkling iridescence that has been prized for centuries through their use in other decorative items, like jewelry.

Aside from offering beautiful handmade products like the lampirong, Capiz Shell Furniture also supports a community of local artisans in the Philippines who make a living by learning the craft.

Raquel Eliserio: Piña Fiber Weaving

Multi-awarded Raquel Eliserio comes from a family of piña weavers based in Balete, Aklan. Aside from numerous local awards, Eliserio’s work, made from piña-woven fiber, has also been recognized internationally in the 2021 Global Eco Artisan Awards textile category.

At Raquel’s Piña Cloth Products, they produce piña silk fabric which they turn into different handmade goods such as the barong tagalog, Filipiniana, and alampay. One traditional method they apply is suksuk, which involves weaving colored threads into the piña fibers to create a patterned design on the fabric.

Pineapple fiber, or piña fiber, is hailed as “the queen of Philippine handwoven textiles” and was traditionally deemed fit to be worn by the elite or even by royalty because of its delicate material – which requires months to create.

Known for being lightweight, piña fiber owes its ivory-white color and lustrous sheen to the long and tedious process of its production. After growing mature pineapples for around 18 months, the silk is harvested using pottery shards and coconut shells. The silk fibers are then cleaned, pounded, sun-dried, and then knotted by hand with the utmost care, since piña fibers can easily break. The final steps include spinning the fibers into spools and weaving them on a foot-operated loom.

Today, Eliserio continues to uplift Filipino artisans and their crafts by collaborating with fashion designers who can bring piña fabric into the modern haute couture world.

Local Artisans in Mindanao

old woman doing ikat weaving

Yabing Masalon Dulo: Ikat Weaving

Yabing Masalon Dulo (d. 2021) belongs to a list of famous Filipino artisans whose crafts were recognized with the prestigious Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA), also known as the National Living Treasures Award. The award is bestowed on traditional artists who have mastered their craft over a significant period of time, and are transferring their skills to other members of the community.

Dulo was one such artist, having established a traditional weaving center in her community in Polomolok, South Cotabato. Commonly referred to as “Fu Yabing,” Dulo is known for her expertise in creating the Blaan tabih (woven abaca cloth), which she learned from a young age. She is also renowned for her practice of the traditional resist-dyeing technique called ikat.

In the ikat weaving process, patterns in the fabric are created by first wrapping yarns into bundles. The fabric is then dyed using a boiled mixture of indigenous plants. On the areas that were tied together, colorless patches are formed, creating a unique pattern on the yarns even before the whole fabric is weaved together.

Organizations and politicians have paid tribute to Yabing Masalon Dulo because of her contributions to Filipino weaving culture. On her first death anniversary, the National Museum of the Philippines recognized her craft by exhibiting some of the master weaver’s selected works.

hands doing mat weaving

Haja Amina Appi: Mat Weaving

Haja Amina Appi (d. 2013) was bestowed with the GAMABA in 2004, further acknowledging the talents of mat artisans in Mindanao. As the master mat weaver of Tandubas, Tawi-Tawi, her colorful mats are known to exhibit her eye for design and symmetry.

The process, which is exclusively carried out by women, begins with harvesting thorny pandan leaves. The thorns are first removed with a knife, and then the leaves are ripped into long strips. After the strips are sun-dried and pressed, they are dyed in boiling water. Artisans can only begin the actual weaving process once these strips have been sun-dried again.

Despite this tedious pre-weaving process, Haja Amina Appi believed that the visualization and execution of the actual design was more difficult, since this part of the craft requires such high precision – which she had honed through memory, instinct, and years of experience, earning her the respect of fellow artisans in the Philippines.

Preserve the Legacy of Filipino Artisans and Their Crafts

These are just a few examples of the many talented artisans in the Philippines. Their work represents the rich cultural heritage of Filipinos, and up to this day, continues to inspire and captivate people across the country and around the world.

The next time you travel around the Philippines, be sure to visit a local market or artisan fair to see and even purchase some of their celebrated works of art, as a sign of support for Filipino artisans and their crafts.