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Fusing different worlds

Helena Alegre on blending art, fashion, craftsmanship, and love for Filipino heritage.

Images by Pinggot Zulueta

Nature holds a host of wonders unfathomable to even the most seasoned and informed artists. In this widely diverse ecosystem we call our own; there are countless variations of animals that hold beauty made distinct by their unique evolutionary history. Beetles, butterflies, dragonflies, and other such tiny creatures—their intrigue not only lies in their anatomy, their colors, their function, and the grace of their movements, but also in the cultural significance they held in the forgotten cities of ancient worlds. Drawing from such inspirations, consummate creative Helena Alegre has fused art, fashion, zoology, craftsmanship, and her love for the Filipino heritage in the creation of stunning and one-of-a-kind sculptural jewelries.1

Helena Alegre’s portfolio has received wide acclaim over the years for being more than simply trinkets; she has elevated bodily ornaments into masterpieces that are essentially the anti-thesis of the modern and mass-produced jewelry that we know. The meticulously crafted pieces are the striking products of her unique aesthetic eye, commitment to culture, passion for nature, and utmost dedication towards the ancient art of silversmithing.

“Art is something innate in me,” Helena admits, “I gravitate towards it naturally. I love culture and beautiful things; this is also the reason why I want to create. I enjoy working on my sculptural jewelry—from conceptualizing to illustration, to the actual executions. I really love the entire process. Another motivation for me is being able to put my adoptive home, Camarines Norte, on the spotlight in terms of jewelry making and providing jobs to those in my field.”

Helena dabbled in many art forms before entering the world of jewelry making. As the wife of distinguished artist Hermes Alegre, Helena remained committed towards her artistic endeavors in the midst of her family duties. An alumni of Philippine Women’s University, she was an active theater performer, flamenco enthusiast, and a former member of the Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company. In addition, she was also a painter, creating landscape sceneries and still life as well as an illustrator for children’s books,

With such diverse artistic desires, Helena cites Eduardo Castrillo, whose conceptual avant garde public works greatly influenced her, as well as an assortment of iconic artists as a source of inspiration. This includes Tiny Nuyda whom she also greatly admires for his passion for butterflies and beetles; Pandy Aviado, Gus Albor, Raul Lebajo, Jerry Navarroa, Ivy Cosio, Gig de Pio, and Hermes Alegre.

In light of her eclectic tastes and hunger for new frontiers, by the early 2000s, Helena found herself embarking on a life-long project to manifest both her desire for movement and her exceptional creative sensibilities.

Megasoma Acteon,  92.5 silver and pietersite

Megasoma Acteon,
92.5 silver and pietersite

An aficionado of historical and cultural artifacts, Helena had a love for collecting antique beads and stones. The craftsmanship she admired in her collection sparked a desire to create her own versions, which was a precursor to her study of various jewelry techniques. This was further developed and encouraged during her vacation in Bicol when she met several people who assisted her in the field. A panday, which is what you would call a silversmith in Bicol specialized in handling metal, and under their expertise Helena studied the old process especially filigree work, which is an ancient art of gold and silver granulation in Camarines Norte. “I love the process of melting and then bending metal. Shaping them into something beautiful is a challenging experience.”

The level of craftsmanship of the master jewelers in her town, where Helena began her studies posed as a challenge for her, especially since the long-established traditions gave little room for Helena to experiment in her own way. However, her love for the craft and need to manifest the designs overflowing from mind overcame all apprehensions. Specializing in silver she melts, bends, cuts, solders, and sets a number of semi precious stones with meticulous and ornate filigree work using everything from agate, moonstones, black tourmaline, lapis lazuli, and turquoise, creating the perfect balance between the raw and the refined, she created beautiful pieces that were shortly noticed by notable fashion and art magazines here and abroad, including Sense and Style, Asian Dragon, Metro Society, Highlife, Aura Elite International (London), and Illustrado (Dubai), among others.

One of her milestones as an artist was designing the sculptural crown for Ms. International Bea Rose Santiago and sculptural jewelries for Bb. Pilipinas winners, which includes the current Miss Universe, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. Helena remains dedicated to her craft as she continues to push the boundaries of her own creativity, which will in the future lead to bolder and more daring pieces in terms of both concept, and magnitude

Copulation Series, 92.5 silver and black agate, lapiz lazuli and rutilated agate

Copulation Series, 92.5 silver and black agate, lapiz lazuli and rutilated agate

“I usually have a time within the day which I call ‘muni-muni’ where I drink coffee and sketch, read, and listen to music,” says Helena, “I take walks on the beach to find materials that inspire me. Alone time matters to me because solitude is important when creating an artistic work. This time helps me come up with new ideas. It also aids me in refining old ones. Continuous learning is part of my process. Aside from doing research on my chosen subjects I keep myself updated with techniques on metallurgy and silversmithing.”

The world continues to be an endless source of inspiration for the multi-dimensional artist. In creating designs taken from the nature, she unleashes the beauty of the very materials that she uses. Her work continues to reflect her efforts to bring together her knowledge of art history, sculptures, and culture and she remains committed to fusing new worlds and creating new and innovative modes of expression, redefining, and blurring the lines between fashion and art.

“I want to go beyond the idea that jewelry is just for fashion, it is wearable art that can be passed on from generation to generation.”