NOTE: This feature story was written last August 5 during the celebration of Ibalong Festival 2017 in Legazpi City.
When she was three years old, Yonnah Francheska “Chek” Toledo received a scolding from her mom Louraffy for drawing random scribbles over a white pillow with poster paint. But that did not stop Chek from moving on to coloring and painting dresses over bond papers, coloring books, and then on canvases to perfect her art.
Now at seven, Chek is putting her talent to use by helping raise fund for the medication of her brother, three-year-old Rafaelo Franco “Buboy,” who was diagnosed with profound hearing loss in both ears early February.
Recently, Chek’s artworks have found their way to an exhibit in connection to the city’s month-long Ibalong Festival. She is one of Ibalong 2017’s featured artists.
28 of the 31 paintings in Chek’s exhibit have been sold to local and foreign buyers on the first day of Ibalong Festival.
This, according to Apo Gonzales, artist and provincial curator, has never happened before since they started displaying art exhibits at the mall.
Gonzales said that the art show is special because finally, a child artist is featured in a month-long exhibit.
“She is gifted with this talent not common to children her age,” Gonzales said. “In fact, her artworks don’t look like they were made by a 7-year-old.”
“I am thankful for the appreciation of the public for Chek’s special talent,” Gonzales said.
Chek said she paints flowers because of their colors. Someday, she said, she wants to paint landscapes.
“When I gave birth to him, Buboy cannot hear anything. The pediatrician said it’s not confirmatory that [Buboy] is deaf. I then ignored it. I was in denial then. When he reached two, he still can’t speak. He doesn’t say, ‘Mama’,” Louraffy said.
She said that Buboy’s right ear might need cochlear implant which costs about a million pesos.
“His right ear still has hope. He can wear heading aid, but it’s not cheap. I thought you can just buy it in local drug stores,” she said.
One day, Chek approached her with a painting and told her to post a photo of it on Facebook. “She said, ‘Post this, mommy. I’m going to help Buboy.’”
Louraffy also posted the same photo on Instagram which attracted one of their neighbors to buy it. The buyer then posted a photo of the painting on Facebook which brought more buyers.
Chek’s paintings are sold at P100 to P300 depending on the materials used.
Louraffy said she still does not know how much the paintings should be sold, but they sell them anyway to their Facebook followers, to family friends, and to relatives in Bicol and sometimes even to buyers from Europe.
“One University of the Philippines professor once bought seven pieces of paintings from Chek,” Louraffy said. “Most of her buyers are artists. I think few appreciate it (Chek’s paintings) because they are not perfect.”
Chek has had no formal training in painting.
“Before, she wanted to be a doctor. And then she said she wanted to be a chef because she sees me cook. Now, she wants to be a painter,” Louraffy said. On Saturdays, Chek learns the piano.
“She’s also good in dancing. In her free time, she plays with Buboy, or she studies. She loves to study,” she added.
Louraffy said she is willing to support Chek’s dream even though Filipino artists do not earn much.
“Yes. That’s what I’m here for,” she said.
One of the buyers of Chek’s paintings, Mandy Lana, learned about the young artist’s work from a friend’s online post.
“[Her] works by themselves are vibrant and inspiring. They are further amplified by her innocence and selfless deed for her brother,” he said.
Lana said that he once witnessed the siblings share a canvas. “Their love for each other is very apparent that no one could simply deny or ignore it. Her younger brother is truly very lucky to have a big sister like her.”
Lana, whose brother and father are both professional painters, purchased seven of Chek’s paintings.
“My brother and father both recognize Chek’s talent and eye for color color combination and dynamism,” he said.
Justine Q. Velasco bought one of the paintings that Buboy helped paint.
“I learned from Facebook that her brother helped paint the first layer [of the painting I bought]. It makes the whole piece valuable because she had fun creating it. Buying art is more fun if it’s for a cause,” Velasco said.
Imelda B. Gabionza, one of the Chek’s first buyers, said that she was unaware of Buboy’s hearing problem when she read about Louraffy’s post on Instagram.
“I went to their house and immediately bought two paintings. What surprised me was that Buboy hugged me tightly even if it was our first time seeing each other,” she said.
Gabionza said she posted about the painting and Chek’s cause.
“[The post] got many likes and private messages from my friends. Soon, I can’t answer them anymore so I gave them Mrs. Toledo’s number so they can negotiate with her.”
In May, Buboy received a thrice-a-week therapy in Manila. Doctors said his response to the therapy have been positive.
Louraffy said that Buboy can now recognize low-pitched sounds. This August, Buboy’s therapy will focus on his response to high-pitched sounds.
His hearing aid, to be worn for eight hours a week, will be adjusted depending on his development.
For Chek, Gonzales is planning another art show by the end of the year.
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