From Baker to Sculptor: Artist’s Journey Culminates with Honorable Mention in the GSIS 2023 Art Competition

Dan Zaballa of Tabaco City, Albay, is a former baker and gardener who discovered his passion for sculpting during the pandemic. His artistic journey has taken a remarkable turn, leading him to win an honorable mention in the 2023 Art Competition of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

His transition from humble beginnings to a recognized artist serves as an inspiring testament to the power of following one’s passion.

Zaballa’s artistic journey began in a well-known bakery in Manila, and when he returned home to Bicol, he continued his work as a baker. Eventually, he didn’t like working under a supervisor, which made him quit and venture into the world of gardening. His encounters with the beauty of nature while tending to a garden sparked a deeper creative feeling within him.

Discovery of Sculpting

As a gardener, Zaballa possessed a keen eye for detail as he crafted concrete accessories such as pots, grottos, and garden benches. With the skills he presented, a client requested him to sculpt a Buddha, which marked the beginning of his sculpting journey in 2017.

However, as the pandemic hit and people were limited from going outside, Zaballa also had limited access to concrete for his sculptures. With this, he explored his neighborhood through the woods and discovered a bamboo root. Intrigued, he carved it into a sculpture, driven by curiosity and a desire to explore his newfound artistic talent. 

“Gumawa ako ng paraan na […] malibang ko sarili ko. Tapos yung ginagawa ko […] yun na pala yung […] hagdan [na] ‘ay papunta na pala ako sa pag-ukit [at] sa paglilok.’ Di ko rin talaga naisip yan [kasi] ang buhay ko sa landscaping eh,” he said. 

Embracing Sculpting as a Career

Eager to share his newfound passion with the world, Zaballa took to social media and posted a photograph of his sculpture. To his surprise, a potential buyer immediately contacted him, expressing interest in purchasing the artwork. This unexpected validation served as a turning point in Zaballa’s life, leading him to recognize his true calling as a sculptor.

Encouraged by the positive response to his initial creation, Zaballa boldly decided to pursue sculpting as a full-time career. From bamboo roots, he upgraded his material to dead wood. For the past six years, he has dedicated himself to honing his craft and expanding his artistic portfolio.

Although frightened by other artists, Zaballa was eager to test his skills on a larger platform. He entered the GSIS 2023 Art Competition, a highly anticipated annual event showcasing the finest artistic talent across various disciplines. The competition proved to be a significant milestone in his career, as his remarkable sculpture, the Daragang Magayon, caught the attention of the judges and earned him an honorable mention in the Sculpture Category with a certificate and a cash prize of P25,000 during the awarding ceremony on June 16, 2023. 

“Naniniwala ako ma’am sa law of attraction eh. Hindi naman sa nagyayabang ma’am kumbaga ganun lagi ako eh. Kung may exhibit alam kong maso-sold out [tapos] nangyayari. Hindi ako nag-iisip ng negatibo. Kumbaga kung positive ka, inaabsorb mo yung energy ng universe. Totoo yan ma’am, ginagawa ko yan [ang] pagmamanifest,” he said.

Dan Zaballa’s remarkable transformation from baker and gardener to a recognized sculptor is a testament to the power of embracing one’s passion. His journey, filled with different pit stops, culminated in an honorable mention in the GSIS 2023 Art Competition. Zaballa’s story serves as an inspiration to aspiring artists, reminding us that true talent knows no bounds and can emerge from the most unexpected places. | Reg Hallare

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Photos: Dan Zaballa