bigyan|give

by in arts

The Tagalog word bigyan means to give. This is not a language lesson, but rather a look at Ugu Bigyan, the potter from Tiaong, Quezon. Because the name fits.

Bigyan’s artwork, his creative technique, his feel-good home that is open to the public for luncheons and gatherings; his artistry, cooking and pottery demos and art gallery have been featured in many newspapers and magazines. But not much has been written about this mild-mannered, generous man with an infectious and heartwarming laugh.

Ugu Bigyan is an artist, an accomplished cook and landscape designer, among other skills. The idyllic home he shares with his family, friends and guests is testimony to his natural artistic talent.

Walking the intricate brick, tiled and pebbled pathway between the houses of Ugu and his sister, Heidi, a newcomer to this good-karma setting is in for a treat. Idyllically situated in the middle of the courtyard is the graceful mango tree with branches reaching out like welcoming arms. One can see that much thought and time were invested in the construction of Bigyan’s home. Eighteen years of love, sweat and certainly tears were spent on this haven nestled in the outskirts of Tiaong.

Bigyan’s gallery showcases the master’s skill with the wheel. The avid pottery or ceramics collector should come prepared to buy one of the more exquisite pieces on display.

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Busloads of students and ceramic artists have visited Bigyan’s place to watch the artist give a demonstration of his craft on the potter’s wheel. After the demo, Bigyan gives a tour of the small factory where his skilled staff is busy carving decorative designs on ceramic pieces, as per explicit instructions from Bigyan. The unbaked ceramics are then fired in the massive kiln, and the finished pieces with the artist’s distinct signature will later grace homes and luxury hotels.

If you’re lucky, the artist will treat you to a one-on-one demonstration of his artistic talent in his private studio. His homemade wheel, powered by a recycled motor has been with him since the beginning.

“This is where I work in peace,” Bigyan said, slapping clay onto the kick-type flywheel. “The pieces in my home or those I make for friends are shaped and designed from memorable times spent together.”

The gallery faces the back courtyard dotted with small pavilions with day beds, bamboo love seats and oversized chairs strewn with big, comfy pillows, inviting the guest to relax, maybe take a snooze after partaking of Bigyan’s lunch in one of the dining huts. Come with a big appetite, sit back and enjoy.

Not only is Bigyan a master potter, cooking is another passion. Several years ago, he opened his place for lunch with a set menu. On any given day, luncheon guests can number anywhere from 30 to 75 people.

Bigyan sets out daily at 6 a.m. to shop for ingredients at the market in Tiaong to prepare his six-seven course luncheon. His shopping list: 10 kilos of mussels, 10 kilos of squid, 14 kilos of clams, 6 kilos of pork, 2 kilos of small ears of white Tagalog corn, 1 kilo of ginger, 2 kilos of kalamansi, 5 kilos of tomatoes, green spicy peppers, puso nang saging (banana hearts), mustard leaves, pako (fern leaves), salted eggs for salad and much more.

Walking up and down the aisles of wet, slippery floors of side-bye-side stalls with vendors hawking their fish, seafood, meat and poultry, Bigyan exchanges friendly banter with each vendor. They all know him and clamor for his attention and his business.

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Bigyan’s assistant, Jun Jun, follows his boss through the market scene of wet stalls where freshly caught fish and meat are on display. The vendors continually fan and swat the swarms of flies. Next stop are the dry stalls where vegetables, rice, noodles, fruits in season and other sundries are sold. Bigyan navigates the aisles, inspecting onions and garlic and haggling with his favorite vendor; a robust woman with a cheerful face. He apologizes to her because he sees the next stall has better-looking Tagalog onions.

“Sunday market is more fun. I meet my friends here and together we haggle like crazy with the vendors,” Bigyan said.

Finally, he has everything he needs. Time to head back.

“Now the serious part begins,” Bigyan said.

Bigyan indeed is a fitting name for this man who gives so much of himself to his community, his family, friends and employees.

Back at the house, getting everything ready is Emy, Bigyan’s right-hand woman in the kitchen. Soon the mussels and clams are ready for the huge pots, the pork and chicken are marinated, the fish cleaned, the vegetables sliced and diced and the ears of corn scraped. The clanging and clamor of pots and pans, bustling activity are all under the supervision of the very capable Emy. She does not rest until every detail is seen to, ingredients prepared and ready to cook.

The menu: choice of pako (fern) and kulawo (banana heart) salads; mussels with mustard sauce and calamari for appetizers; clam soup, fried tilapia with sauce and grilled pork ribs for the entrée, served with buko juice drinks; chicken/pork adobo for the children; buko pandan with coffee for dessert.

The frenzied kitchen has taken on the steady humming of a beehive. With Bigyan’s gentle guidance, Emy’s quick efficiency and the alert staff, everything is ready by the time the guests arrive from the city.

The delicious odor of food wafting from the kitchen greet the guests arriving from the city. All is in place — the food, the tables set with cutlery and Bigyan’s signature ceramic tableware and most important, the mouthwatering dishes of food ready for the palate to taste and savor. 

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Later, the sated guests lavish in their praise, make future reservations and with their bundles of packages purchased from the art gallery, and depart.

Heidi, Ugu’s older sister is the front person of the everyday doings and business dealings of the family enterprise. She took over that job from their late mother, Ursula Bigyan.

“She was a true lady. All of life’s lessons and values she passed on to us, and it is what sustains this family, down to the youngest member,” Heidi said.

“Unfortunately, my sister is lacking in one thing. She did not inherit our mother’s elegant style. I may have to send her to a finishing school, but I think it’s too late for that,” Bigyan laughs.

There is a strong bond between brother and sister, and the nieces and nephews who make up the family enterprise. “The time will come when I turn all this over to them, the next generation. It’s important that they learn not only the business but also how to deal with our clients, demanding or not,” Bigyan said.

Another side that most people do not know, except for those in his community, is Bigyan’s big heart. He shares his bounty with those less fortunate.

Heidi tells of her brother’s generosity especially during the holiday season. “One hundred or so presents are purchased and wrapped for the children in the neighborhood, Queso de Bola (edam cheese) and other foods are distributed. You should see their faces,” Heidi said. “But the most meaningful for Ugu is the giving of gifts to about 50 elderly people in the community who have no immediate family to care for them.”

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Bigyan indeed is a fitting name for this man who gives so much of himself to his community, his family, friends and employees.

For creative minds seeking solace from the fast pace of the city, the best time to fully appreciate Bigyan’s place is in the middle of the week, in the afternoon when the guests have left, when the place is quiet and it’s siesta time.

Seek out one of the pavilions, preferably the one right in front of Bigyan’s studio where the artist spends time throwing clay on his homemade potter’s wheel.

Sit back, relax and take it all in. Get your sketchpad and conceptualize your next piece, or turn on your laptop and start pounding out those words on the keyboard. No one will bother you. Stay until the sun goes down. If a man walks up to you in a quiet, shy manner and ask if everything is all right, say yes, and spend time getting to know the man who created this haven.

You will come away with a feeling of having spent a blessed, peaceful time in a place that you will tell your friends about. But for some of us who know him well, Ugu Bigyan is our haven.

Editor’s note: Getting to Bigyan’s place is easy to miss if you’re from the city and don’t know your way around Quezon province. Blink and you’ll miss the turn off from the highway. Just ask the locals and they will point you to the sign that says Lusacan, in front of a pink building. You can’t miss that. If you do, ask again.

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