Monday, July 30, 2012

Melecio Figueroa, an Ilonggo Artist Behind 'Conant' Coinage

Brought up from a poor family in Arevalo, Iloilo, PH, a multi-talented artist made a name in a coin design contest which served as forerunner in coin system in the Philippines. The series of coins he used is "Conant".

Now Melecio Figuerao, an Ilonggo artist, engraver and member of the Malolos Congress is remembered as he died 109 years ago today by the Ilonggo, particularly the native of Iloilo. He was born in Arevalo, Iloilo, in 1842 to Rufo Figueroa and Gabriela Magbanua.

Melecio Figueroa, the Artist
Melecio Figueroa
Figueroa was born to poor parents in Arevalo, Iloilo. His mother was Gabriela Magbanua who died while he was young. His father, Rufo Figueroa, relocated to Sorsogon to join his uncle Andres. The younger Figueroa and his sister were left to the care of an aunt named Juana Yulo, a vendor. To help attract customers to his aunt’s business, Figueroa carved boats, carabaos, and dolls from wood and gave them away for free to customers. There is nothing known about his early education.

At the age of 16, Figueroa was sent to Madrid as a scholar of Don Francisco Ahujas who was a consejero (consultant) in the Philippines. Along with another student, Figueroa was selected by the Ayuntamiento of Manila.

He arrived in Madrid in 1866 and enrolled late in the Escuela de Artes y Oficios in the same city. Nevertheless, he was awarded a prize at the end of the term. He next transferred to the Academia Superior de Bellas Artes de San Fernando , where he reaped more medals namely: a prize in the school year of 1872-1873; a medal in modeling and runner-up prize in engraving in 1873-1874; and medals in modeling, anatomy, and engraving in 1874-1875.

Melecio Figueroa Coin Design

In March 1876, however, Figueroa's benefactor died and he was forced to perform odd jobs in the city to earn money. Fortunately, the keeper of the Academia offered him lodging in the school while he tended his own watch repair shop. He was also able to survive somehow on a pension he received as recognition of the wax bust of Alfonso XII that he made and exhibited in the Exposicion de Bellas Artes in 1875.

In 1879, Figueroa was sent by the Academia to Rome and the other art centers of Italy for exposure and further training as recognition of his good scholastic standing. Along with him came Alejo Vera, who later on became a teacher and a good friend of Juan Luna. While in Rome, he made a bust of Prince d’Odellaski.

Figueroa was named by royal order member of the jury of awards of the Exposicion de Filipinas which was held in Madrid in 1887. He was the one who engraved the medals for the awards. A year later, during the Exposicion Universal de Barcelona in 1888, a die he presented earned him a bronze medal.

Figueroa was also an occasional painter. One of the few canvases he made was El Tiempo Liberando á España de la Esclavitud.

In 1892, Figueroa returned to the Philippines. He became an appointed professor of engraving in the Escuela de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado. On 5 July 1893, he was appointed as first class engraver at the government colonial mint, Casa de Moneda, in Manila. Aside from his regular job, he busied himself with his studio and with maintaining a silversmith’s shop. The studio that he opened was dedicated to the arts of sculpture, painting and engraving.

In 1894, a bust relief that he made of the wife of Intende General Jimeno Agius attacted attention. A year after, Figueroa was already preparing the dies of the medals for the Exposicion Regional de Filipinas. During the second stage of the Revolution in 1896, Figueroa was named representative of the Malolos Congress representing Iloilo. He taught at the Liceo de Manila until his death in 1903.

On 2 March 1903, the U.S. Congress passed a law entitled “An Act to Establish a Standard of Value and to Provide for a Coinage System in the Philippine Islands.” Shortly before he died, Figueroa entered the coin design contest initiated by the government and his designs won. The series of coins were called “Conant” after Charles A. Conant, an American monetary expert. The designs he engraved were minted in San Francisco, California.

Contributed by Edgar Siscar of Iloilo Update.
Source: WikiPilipinas - Melecio Figueroa


  1. Thank you very much, Brother Gil. Keep them Random Thoughts going... My best regards...

  2. Very interesting and educational. Sayang walang photos ng mga ginawa nya. :D

    1. Sorry! You can see his coin designs now here. I just updated it.

  3. i remember seeing this coin from my mom. she had one of these and still keeping till now :)

    thanks for sharing this :)


  4. Figueroa was able to make his mark even if he started poor and even had to do odd jobs at a time in his life. This is just very inspirational.

  5. Very interesting read! We have such great artists and they deserve all the recognition for their hard work and brilliant designs!

  6. Mr. Figueroa must have led an interesting life despite of his poor status. Being recognized for his talent, no wonder the Ilonggos's still celebrate his life. We all should! Thank you for sharing!

  7. that is something every filipino must know. there were just a lot of kababayans that needs due recognition for the good things they done in the name of our nation. Yahweh bless. ralph

  8. The story of Mr. Melecio Figueroa is very inspiring that every Filipino should admire. He use his talents in goodwill making him excel with his hard work. Proud to be Pinoy!

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