Living well is the best revenge.
Few have exemplified the truth in this line by English poet George Herbert more than Emilio Aguilar Cruz, better known as Abe.
Painter and writer, journalist and diplomat, bon vivant and bohemian, Cruz was a renaissance man whose many accomplishments were matched only by his zest for life.
Of late, however, his reputation as an artist has been somewhat overshadowed by his fame as an epicure and champion of Kapampangan cuisine, thanks to the success of the LJC Restaurant Group, the chain established by his son Lorenzo “Larry” Cruz.This imbalance may soon be redressed.
In honor of Abe Cruz’s birth centennial this year, his family has donated his artworks to the permanent collection of the National Museum.
It is the single largest donation to the museum, according to Ana Labrador, chief curator and assistant director of the National Museum.
“We’re excited because it’s a chance to place Abe Cruz in the art historical perspective,” she says.
A prolific painter who worked mainly in oil and watercolor, Cruz is said to have made as many as 5,000 pieces, although the artist himself has placed the number closer to 3,000.
Influenced by French impressionism, Cruz formed the Dimasalang Group, a coterie of artists that included Sofronio Y. Mendoza, Andres Cristobal Cruz, Romulo Galicano and Ibarra de la Rosa.
Born in Magalang, Pampanga, Cruz was largely self-taught, dropping out of the UP School of Fine Arts after a year. In the 1930s, he started writing fiction and poetry for the Graphic Magazine, eventually becoming its feature writer. During the war, he served with guerrillas against the Japanese. After the war he became editor of the Sunday Times and, later, the Daily Mirror, championing Filipino culture and nationalism in his writings.
From 1978 to 1981, he was the Philippines’ permanent representative to Unesco. While stationed in Paris, he taught himself French and translated a number of French historical writings on the Philippines into English.
Cruz died on Dec. 19, 1991. The following year, the National Historical Institute placed a marker with his name in the Magalang town plaza. Some of his artworks, writings and memorabilia are on display in the EAC Museum at Abe’s Farm in Magalang. The LJC Restaurant Group has also established the Emilio Aguilar Cruz Foundation, through which deserving students of Magalang are granted scholarships.