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[PHOTO AT LEFT - Corky Virgils with her miniature dachshund Fifi. Her mixed-media collage interpretation of an elephant is framed in the background]

MANILA, NOVEMBER 8, 2009 (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson - Katherine (Corky) Virgils is a well-known American mixed-media artist who lived in Manila over 30 years ago. Now based in London with her English husband Peter Camp and their two sons, she has transformed the family’s spacious home on Kennington Road into a comfort haven with a bed-and-breakfast deal that’s hard to match.

It was in 1973 that Corky traveled to Manila with her father Russell, stepmother Glenys and brother Pip. Her father, a Texas engineer, was contracted by Meralco as a consultant. She enrolled at Maryknoll and has fond memories of Manila’s social life with friends Becky Villacorta, Triskie Almeda, Tessie and Pepis Yulo and Menchu Genato.

Corky lived next door to where my own family resided in Bel-Air Village, Makati. She was a welcome visitor in our home, often raiding our kitchen — with my mother’s permission, of course. And I was her little brother’s tutor, going over his homework and reviewing lessons as an elementary student at the American School. Incidentally, I courted her friend Menchu who later became my wife and lifelong partner.

After spending two-and-a-half years in Manila, Corky left for London where she discovered the arts. She earned a degree in painting at the Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication then added a master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Arts.

Corky became immersed in the arts and developed her own technique as she ventured into the ultra-imaginative world of mixed media. For 12 years, she was affiliated with the prestigious Jill George Gallery and her works were on exhibit all over Europe and the US.

What makes Corky’s art so unique is her method of expression. She uses paper and parchment, never canvas, as the surface of her collages, which show layers of watercolors and even clips from graphic books (like pages from musical sheets and reproductions of vintage maps) in depicting abstract interpretations or more figurative forms of different cultures. Corky’s work has brought life on tapestry or print to Mayan temples and ruins, Byzantine iconography and hybrid Mogul architecture while showcasing the influence of her travels the world over. Her series on animals — particularly tigers and elephants — drew raves and equally impressive was her series on musical instruments. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Corky has gained widespread artistic recognition for her creativity, eclectic approach, sensitivity and exotic imagery.

In her artistic career, Corky has been commissioned to do work for the Royal Caribbean line, Lloyds Bank, Mitsui, Ishimaru, Calvin Klein, Volvo, the Royal family of Abu Dhabi, the Really Useful Group, British Rail, Arthur Anderson and many, many more. Her works are gobbled up for anywhere from 300 to 5,000 English pounds apiece (P24,000 to P400,000).

Corky has not visited Manila since leaving in 1976 and only recently, Menchu and I reconnected with her in London. A common friend Steve Oliver got us back in contact through the Internet.

“I’ll never forget the Philippines,” said Corky. “I loved going to Baguio and the beaches in Batangas. I loved eating lechon, pansit and adobo. We were lucky that when we lived in Manila, we had an excellent Filipina cook (named) Luz. I still remember some Tagalog words like ‘kumusta’ and the rude ones, too. My father also loved the Philippines. I remember he took me to dinner once with his boss at Meralco, Mr. Geny Lopez. To this day, when I come across Filipinos in London, I tell them about my stay in Manila. I would love to take my family to Manila, revisit the places I used to go to and reunite with my Filipino friends.”

One of her prized possessions is a barong Tagalog that was specially made by Pierre Cardin himself.

Corky attributed her passion for Asian culture to her introduction to the Philippines as a college student. “The Philippines opened my eyes to Asian culture,” she said. “That was my inspiration. I’ve since fallen in love with India where our family has gone thrice a year the past four years. We’ve made many Indian friends and our dream is to build an eco-home in a desert in Jodhpur.”

Corky’s husband Peter is an architect involved in office building and housing projects throughout the UK, particularly in London. He, too, is smitten with India as are their two sons Louis, 19, a student of Trinity College in Dublin and Emile, 14, who is in boarding school in Sussex.

On our recent visit to her home, Corky was in the process of finishing a mixed-media collage of a sitar. She started out by researching extensively on the musical instrument then sketched the sitar on a sheet of paper, using the exact dimensions to execute her collage of watercolor strips and other material.

About eight years ago, Corky’s family moved out of Chelsea and into a beautiful home that used to be an Irish bowling club in the ‘60s. Peter and Corky renovated the 2,850-square-foot (about 300 square meters) building surrounding a 2,000-square-foot (about 200 square meters) garden into a five-bedroom unit that could easily land in the pages of Architectural Digest. They spent a tidy sum — some 200,000 English pounds — for the renovation that took a year to complete but in the end, the expense was worth it.

“The project is naturally a reflection of my professional life,” said Peter, quoted in England’s The Independent newspaper, which featured the exquisite Georgian home in central London. “But Katherine also saw the chance to transform a decrepit space into a modern showplace for her work.” Some 30 of Corky’s collages and paintings are displayed around the house.

With their boys away at school, Corky decided two years ago to offer a bed-and-breakfast deal where an inviting separate section of the home welcomes takers to two bedrooms, a kitchen, a toilet and bath and a spacious living room looking out into the garden. Corky’s deal includes a continental breakfast of cereal, bread, jam, cheese, juice, milk and coffee. A TV set is in the living room. She charges 90 English pounds for a couple and 50 English pounds for a single per night.

Menchu and I stayed in the bed-and-breakfast section which we found to be comfortable, spacious and clean. What made our stay even more memorable was the hospitality of Corky and Peter who said they’ve welcomed visitors from around the globe, some even staying for long periods, as in three months. They’re particularly eager to take in Filipino guests because of Corky’s familiarity with the Philippines.

Conveniently, the bus stop is only a two-minute walk from Corky’s place and the underground station, a 10-minute leisurely walk away. A 24-hour grocery is on the next block. The bus ride to Piccadilly Circus downtown is only a 20-minute trip — in spite of traffic and about six stops.

If you’re planning a trip to London, why not take Corky’s offer instead of staying at an expensive hotel? It’s a deal you won’t regret.

* * *

Visit Corky’s website at www.katherinevirgils.com or contact her at The Bowling Hall, 346 Kennington Road, London SE11 4LD or via email at kvirgils@freenet.co.uk or bowlinghall@freenet.co.uk).


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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