NARDA CAPUYAN has left us with an aching void in our heart. She was an institution, an icon, an inspiration. She achieved fame and commercial success by going back to the culture that raised her, the way of life where weaving was a mark of achievement, success and all-around utility. And she brought along the women, giving their skill in weaving an upliftment that empowered them in more ways than one.
From Bontoc in the Cordilleras, she was raised an Episcopalian but along with the native ethos of the Mountain Province, an ethos of hard work, skills learned early and well, respect for tradition coupled with the ambition to acquire education and then give back.
She was a family planning nurse at the outset and worked among women and for women along the Cordilleras. She saw weaving as a way of family planning by keeping the women busy doing something with their time. Somewhere along that trajectory, she was introduced by a design consultant to do ikat-weaving, which is tie-dyeing threads salvaged from previous clothing materials and then weaving them into material that could be used for blankets, bags, table runners, placemats, shawls, dresses, jackets, even shoes. She also designed, together with her husband, Wilson, a loom that was upright and could weave wider cloth. It was more comfortable for the weaver and more practical for producing a wider weave. She wore ikat clothes woven in her atelier all the time, unless she was wearing Mountain Province traditional clothes. Under her tutelage and creativity the ikat-woven items came in glorious colors of blue, green, pink, orange, black, white – the rainbow colors of Nature in the Cordillera and Narda’s imagination. She dared to be innovative, original and to move beyond tradition.
Narda’s ikat creations became such a hit particularly as exports. US and European stores vied for them and gave her the spotlight in their department stores with shows, sales, exhibits. Soon locals too beat a path to her atelier in La Trinidad, Benguet. They bought for themselves and for gifts to friends. She became a byword for original design and color in turn inspiring weavers of the Cordillera to innovate.
She was given the Golden Shell Award by the Department of Trade and Industry for her success in export and original design. That was just the first of many awards.
But Narda did not stop there. Her vision was broad, her thirst for knowledge was ongoing and her willingness to help a Cordilleran cause was a forever thing.
Baguio hotels used her woven work in their interiors. Aside from curtains, blankets, table runners, she produced wall hangings with Cordilleran motifs.
When Baguio was devastated by the earthquake of 1990 and the hotels where her work was on show were damaged and destroyed, Narda rose to leadership. Many of the hotel staff were her friends, many of them had perished and Baguio was a broken, frightened city. Narda went on radio to appeal for help. She involved herself in receiving and distributing relief goods. In the process, she had to scold politicians doing their usual tricks or fight opportunists taking advantage of the situation. People listened and followed her advice. She cared and she showed it. It was her finest hour.
When things eventually went back to normal, Narda was already a leader to be looked up to. She continued her trade but also spent time and treasure to help Baguio and her province.
She helped the Baguio artists hold the Baguio Arts Festival. She saw the need for esthetics not only in weaving but in the Cordilleran spaces. An artist at heart, she knew the value of nurturing artists for themselves and their communities. She was always ready to answer the call for help for a better Baguio. These were not easy tasks with closed minds and self-serving authorities who would hardly cooperate. But Narda kept trying, convincing, helping.
I remember her always with an approachable, open countenance ready to break into a smile of recognition and warmth. We once visited her Eden, Winaca, in Tublay where she showed us the flowers and vegetables she was growing, the garden she had designed and the serene retreat house she hied off to at the end of a working day or a trip.
She will be remembered as thinking of others, particularly her village neighbors, women of the Cordilleras, artists, and Baguio.
All of them are now orphaned but perhaps it will make memories of Narda more precious and more inspiring.