Artisan Made Philippines


Ay nako!  It has been almost 2 years since my last post!

Yesterday, I attended an amazing launch event for Artisan Made Philippines.  Overnight my cup runneth over with the sense of Pinay Pride.  And just in time!

One of the biggest things that has been weighing down on my mind, heart and soul has been my struggle to teach my kids Tagalog and cultivate their Filipino identity.  Yes, I speak to them exclusively in Tagalog, but I know my version of Tagalog is not enough.  I myself need some immersion crash course in order to discuss more complex thoughts and feelings with them.

Thanks to Artisan Made, I came away from last week feeling connected to a vibrant Filipino-American community.  I’m feeling happier.  It’s the kind of feeling you might experience when you spend a whole day with cool cousins.  Mind you, I only knew Kristine Surla, the founder of Artisan Made when I walked in the door, but everyone felt familiar as they shared their stories of being Filipino or Filipino-American.  It didn’t matter that we were from all different parts of the Philippines or different parts of the US.

It’s a huge understatement to say that I was thrilled and inspired.  The day wasn’t about fleeting fashion trends.  It was about Filipinos and Filipinas making a difference in other people’s lives.

  • Moved by the work that the non-profit, Gawad Kalinga, is doing to end poverty and hunger in the Philippines.
  • Lost my mind shopping for beautiful pieces by Anthill – a social and cultural enterprise in the Philippines working to preserve local weaves through contemporary design to sustain livelihood and tradition.  Each piece had a story about the specific weaves and the weaver or craftsperson who created it.
  • Witnessed the inventive and improvisational culinary skills of The New York Times-featured Filipina chef, Yana Gilbuena.  I inhaled the 5-course kamayan meal after admiring her artful presentation.  I also learned that you can peel ginger with a regular spoon!  It’s work, but it means that you don’t waste any of the ginger!  Genius.
  • Discovered that “heirloom Philippine rice” exists!  Last night’s menu included black rice by Social Products — an organization that sources organic food products from Philippine coop smallholder farmer partners that empower rural farmers, women, and indigenous peoples with a more sustainable way to eradicate poverty.
  • Excited to taste and learn about Kalsada Coffee from the Philippines and roasted in Seattle.
  • And wow!  Theo & Philo artisanal chocolates.  Yum!  They’re the Philippines’ first bean-to-bar artisan chocolates.  You have to try them!
  • And calamansi liqueur?  Yes, please!  I am now on the hunt for Manille Liqueur de Calamansi.  According to Forbes, it was “conceived as a Filipino take on the Italian limoncello by president and CEO Olivia Limpe-Aw, in collaboration with restaurateur-turned-writer-and-television-host Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi, Manille Liqueur de Calamansi, launched in January 2014, is a vodka-based drink that uses the essence of the zesty calamansi rind sourced from Mangyan farmers in Mindoro, a province located off the coast of Luzon, and northeast of Palawan.”
  • And most importantly, I have secured some SoCal Tagalog play dates in my family’s future!  In fact, because of the press coverage leading up to the event, I now know that there’s a show, Kababayan Today.  And because of that show, I now know that there’s a summer school program by the Filipino Cultural School here in LA!  It’s far but it will be worth it to enroll Cedro next summer.

Maraming salamat, Kristine! Mabuhay!



Interview with Ardith on “The Art Directed Life”

© Photo and Art by Ardith Ibañez Nishii

I am proud to be featured this week on the art blog, “The Art Directed Life.”

(The story behind the photo: Here’s a collage that I created with one of my illustrations.  I felt weird submitting a picture without my son, Cedro, so I included his sippy cup.  (a) He is obsessed with Lightning McQueen right now, and (b) I have been known to drink the rest of his drinks at the end of the day straight from his cup.)

Tribute to Freda

© Photo by Ardith Ibañez Nishii

Cedro and Freda // October 2010 // San Francisco, CA

My good friend, Freda Koblick, passed away today.

If you know me well, you know how much she meant to me.  She was a great friend and mentor and huge inspiration.  For those of you who don’t know her, here’s a great article describing her life and her work.

I can’t believe she was 90 years old (almost 91)!  I’ve known her for 17 years.  I met her right after graduating from college in ’94.  It was a happy accident.  I was trying to figure out what to do with my life and it just so happened that a good friend wasn’t available to work as her apprentice so I took the position instead.  I always looked forward to visiting her at her space in the Mission District of San Francisco — half of an entire synagogue converted into a loft/gallery above and studio and machine shop down below.

She taught me so much about being an artist and living life to its fullest.  She was infinitely wise and elegant and charming, yet warm and approachable and hysterical at the same time.  I always felt smarter and a better person after hanging out with her.  We spent a lot of time chatting at her dining table over the years.  I smile at the memory of her casually sipping her chilled vodka from a beautiful pewter shot glass at meals. She always seemed so regal but at the core she was always so much fun and so funny.  I loved hearing her adventures from when she was younger.  For example, she would talk about those McCarthyism days when she was certain her phone was tapped.  She and her best friend, Henrietta, would call each other up and just read smut novels out loud to make fun of the FBI agents listening in!

And she continued to have adventures!  Despite all her serious physical ailments from the past 5 years, she was always so sharp and alive and gracious. She would always joke, “I’m gettin’ old!”  But she could recall details about our friendship just like that.  No problem.  No matter how much time had passed since we last spoke, she could always pick right back up from where we left off.

I’m so glad she was able to meet my husband, Brian, and was so supportive of his acting career.  The last time she saw him back in October of 2010, he played the shakuhachi (Japanese flute) for her in her living room and it sounded so amazing resonating through the loft space.  I know she enjoyed it… And I’m so glad that she was able to meet my baby boy, Cedro.  I was so pleased by how much she enjoyed his company and how much she would talk about him afterwards.  It’s a great feeling when important people in your life meet each other!

I’m so glad that I got the chance to know Freda Koblick.  She will always be an important part of my life and who I am.

I was able to visit her one last time a couple weeks ago.  We didn’t say any final good-byes then; more like “See you later…”

See you later, Freda.  I love you!

Portrait by Imogen Cunningham, 1945

Portrait by Imogen Cunningham, 1945