Culture and the Arts Feature Story

Bernadette Manahan Sta. Maria: When Love, Passion and Art Touch Lives

“PAINTING is the love of my life; it’s my passion. And not only that, it enables me to touch the lives of people, especially my subject,” says Bernadette Manahan Sta. Maria, in justifying the many years that she has been zealously engrossed in doing just that.

One thing I noticed with this painter is the fact that when her subject’s portrait is done, she wholeheartedly gives the original, instead of a copy which many of my accomplished artist’s friends do. When asked why, this was her answer: “I am already rewarded with joy fulfilling my passion, and it is another thing to make others happy,” she remarked.

“Life is not all about money; it’s also about sharing your joy – your work of love – with others,” she added.

Bernadette’s life has been a checkered one. She was born to parents who had a hard time even to make both ends meet.

“My father told me this when I was still very young: ‘If you want to pursue your studies, it has to come from your own pocket’,” she explained.

Bernadette Manahan Sta. Maria. Photo © Vics Magsaysay

I first took up a secretarial course. But later on I found out that the course was not the one I really liked. Then I discovered from a cousin that the University of the Philippines (U.P.) had a “Talent Test” to screen those who were qualified. I underwent the test, and soon after, I found out that I was one of the fortunate 20% to be admitted, ” she narrated with a smile.

“At the age of six, I was already fascinated with painting. My siblings were all mad at me for filling up their blank notebooks with my drawings. Even at that tender age I knew in the back of my mind that I had the potential to do portraiture. My teachers loved my artwork, and they used it for class or school projects. During my first year in U.P., I had no funds to spend on my art supplies. It was really disheartening that I even had to borrow technical pens and other art materials from my classmates,” Bernadette lamented.

“My teacher happened to be Larry Alcala, the celebrated cartoonist. He asked us if we were interested to work on a part-time basis as book illustrators at Phoenix Publishing House,” the artist recounted.

“I went there for an interview and was given an on-the-spot test by the interviewing staff. Luckily, they found my work suited for the requirements they wanted and I was hired,” she continued.

During those succeeding years, she was also able to get jobs from other established publishing houses.

“From this augmented income, I was then able to help my siblings financially in their studies”.

Later, it dawned on her that the Visual Communications major she was studying was no longer relevant to what she was doing and, instead, she focused more on her job as a book illustrator.

“Ivy Grace”, 11″ x 14″, Prismacolor pencil, Strathmore Tone Gray. Image © Vics Magsaysay

But when she migrated to America in 2004, she hardly had time for her painting as she was so busy in her job as a caregiver. It was only in 2010 that the old lady she was working with allowed her to paint on the condition that she could only do that after her work was done. Given that window of opportunity, she disciplined herself, and from then until now her discipline has enabled her to average a hundred portraits or still life paintings annually.

“Even in my younger years, I held this tenacious belief: ‘Ang buhay ng portrait ay nasa mata’ (For a portrait to have ‘life’ the eyes must have that ‘sparkle’),” the artist explained with conviction.

Yes, central to her portraits is the way she is able to breathe life into the eyes of her subjects – it’s no wonder those eyes do “speak” in enigmatic ways.

“In my college days, I was influenced by the National Artist Jose Joya’s “single stroke.” I was so fascinated by it, but unbeknownst to me, I realized later in life that this painting technique was already inherent in my brand of painting – thus probably the resonance”.

Bernadette plans to quit working very soon and up the ante of her career by starting to exhibit her work in the Philippines first.

“Yes, it’s about time to focus on this. Also, I am happy now that my kids have graduated and are already working. I can now spend my whole time doing what I love most,” she confided.

Bernadette might not be in the same league as that revered lady from Lourdes who has touched so many lives; nevertheless, in her own little way, she has been able to rekindle the hearts of numerous art lovers – especially her subjects – through her enigmatic art.

Bernadette Manahan Sta. Maria other works:

“Birds of Paradise”, 12″ x 18″, Prismacolor pencil, Strathmore Coal Black. Image © Vics Magsaysay
“Sir Boboy Yonzon, 11″ x 14”, Prismacolor pencil, Strathmore Tone Gray. Image © Vics Magsaysay
“The Stranger”, 9″ x 12″, Prismacolor pencil, Strathmore Tone Tan. Image © Vics Magsaysay




Vics Magsaysay, Ph.D.
Vics Magsaysay, Ph.D., is a Los Angeles-based writer, fine art nature photographer, painter, graphic designer, makata (Filipino poet) and holds a doctorate degree in clinical hypnotherapy.

2 Replies to “Bernadette Manahan Sta. Maria: When Love, Passion and Art Touch Lives

  1. Soooo PROUD of you!
    Thank GOD for knowing an artist like you
    May GOD continueally bless your talent

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