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How having a bagaholic wife led an artist to unique medium

Rene Cruz explores the unconventional leather

Rene Cruz’s leather art titled ‘The Hunted’ yields images and textures.

Rene Cruz: His art is the sum of his adventures.

Usually men just do an eyeroll, in resignation, in reaction to a bagaholic wife—what can one do if a woman is addicted to bags? This man’s reaction is one for the books. Seasoned artist Rene Cruz did something perhaps no other husband has done—he turned his wife’s big love of bags into, dig this, craft and then art.

“It all started one day at Rustan’s about 10 years ago when Rowena asked me to look at the price tag of a simple designer-brand bag,” Cruz recalled the eureka moment for Rowena is his wife, a former corporate executive and an active supporter of Cruz’s art.

Rene Cruz’s leather art titled Pedro’s Balloons

“When I saw the price tag, I told Rowena I would make her all the colors she likes…so we proceeded to Marikina to source a sewing machine for leather, at the same time look for a supplier of genuine leather,  and found one…all imported leather with all the colors and textures Rowena loved. Then we started first with leather cellphone cases and a few bags which we would only give away as gifts to friends and relatives. Then we realized we could make a few bucks from it.”

Cruz’s bags became in demand for their interesting shapes, variety, and craftsmanship.

“But Rene can do almost anything with leather, from leather vests to saddle bags, at that time mostly for himself because he used to ride these big motorcycles. Then he would customize for select friends,” Rowena recalled the development of her husband’s leather craft.

Rene Cruz’s Orbs in the Desert

It was only a matter of time before Cruz, a dynamic artist known for working with various media and who has held art exhibits, would use leather as art medium. “So the leather scraps from bag making he started using NOT on canvass, but on plywood meticulously cut and inlaid with glue!” Rowena described the start of Cruz’s leather art. In time he became known as “The Leather Man.”

Using leather—sometimes leather strips alone, other times mixed with other media like acrylic—Cruz has created abstract, still life, landscape art. “Many are pure leather…not a drop of paint,” said Rowena.


Leather bags crafted by Rene Cruz

Cruz’s leather art exhibit is on view, until May 29, at Palms Country Club in Filinvest City, Alabang, Muntinlupa. Guests stop in their tracks to scrutinize the artworks when they realize that these are not paintings. Upon closer scrutiny, one would marvel at how a forest scene, for instance, is composed using leather, as one would, for instance, use a paint brush.

Cruz said, “You can create art from anything available to you, and I have leather scraps in so many colors and textures, it attracted me to make art, and so the leather art began and The Leatherman was born.

“For an artist, there is no limit to what you can do and create. The people in remote areas, they don’t have the resources we have but they can make beautiful pieces of art. Filipinos have so much  talent waiting to be tapped and challenged!”

Cruz has always been an adventurer. Since his mother didn’t want him to go into fine arts right away after high school, he joined the US Navy instead and was posted in Hawaii. But the military service wasn’t for him, so he came back home to the Philippines and enrolled in Fine Arts at Philippine Women’s University. In time, the urge to explore took hold of him again and he went to northern Italy, to live in Genova, where he stayed for a few years. He learned the language, the cuisine (even pizza making), and the craft.

In a way, using various mediums in his art—oil, watercolor, pen and ink, pastel, and leather—comes with a life that’s lived like an adventure and turned into art.

Leather bags crafted by Rene Cruz

Rene Cruz’s leather art exhibit is on view at Palms Country Club, Alabang, Muntinlupa, until May 29. For details, call tel. no. (0920) 971-0058.

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