The magnetic Lolita Valderrama Savage: Nature artist, Chairman’s wife, mother of three

This portrait of Lolita appeared on the cover of ‘La Toscana,’ a leading art and culture magazine in Italy.

This portrait of Lolita appeared on the cover of ‘La Toscana,’ a leading art and culture magazine in Italy.

By Cristina DC Pastor

Corporate chairmen’s spouses are known to stay at home, raise the children, manage the household, and still look elegant for after-dinner parties.

Artist Lolita Valderrama Savage, who has been married for almost 40 years to retired chairman of global asset management company, Alliance Capital Management International, Frank Savage, recast that traditional stereotype. She traveled — or rather sailed — with her husband; raised her family; and pursued her art. She painted, exhibited, and was constantly creating art, collecting enough paintings to be able to show them around the world. For having the flexibility to do all that, she expressed her gratitude to her mother and sister who would come to New York to help with the kids.

“My mother and sister who lived in California helped me with my children,” said Lolita in an interview with The FilAm. “I didn’t want to leave my children totally to strangers, baby sitters and nannies.”

From the time she knew she had a “gift,” Lolita gave the arts almost her undivided attention. She remembered how before she was even 4 years old she was this precocious girl who loved to draw. To keep her behaved, her mother supplied her with paper and pencil, and Lolita would sit still for hours just drawing as if in a trance.

“Mother knew I had something,” she said. “It’s a gift and it showed. All I wanted to do was to draw.”

She drew picture after picture with pencils, and as she grew as an artist, with charcoals, watercolors and oil paints. When the signs of an artistic flair became apparent, her mother urged some caution as “there is no money in the arts,” she recalled at a Ma-Yi Theater fundraising gala in New York City.

“Both my mother and father didn’t think one could make money out of such a humble career,” she said. “But now, I cannot think of any career more precious and invaluable than art. My art has taken me to distant places and cultures and brought many great people into my exciting life including family and friends. Art has been a fulfillment of my being.”

Lolita with family and friends aboard the New York Yacht Club.

Lolita with family and friends aboard the New York Yacht Club.

Her professors from University of Santo Tomas’ College of Architecture and Fine Arts saw a blooming artist, and urged Lolita to apply for a scholarship to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after she was just appointed art instructor upon graduating at the university. She won the grant and was sent to the Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence, Italy, not knowing then the city “would be part of my destiny.” Lolita became one of the students of the famous Florentine artist Silvio Loffredo. He passed away in 2013, just before Lolita’s grand solo exhibit at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi Museum.

“Florence was the most beautiful town I ever saw where art and beauty merge in the works of the greatest artists of all times,” Lolita told La Toscana magazine, recalling her days as the proverbial struggling artist. At the time, she was in her 20s and supported herself from the stipend she received from the scholarship.

She has always felt love for Italy from the time she arrived in 1973. “People were very respectful and kind to me,” she said. “They were extremely curious about me and my Filipino culture. I was proud to be able to tell them about my beautiful people and country.”

She began to paint nature in Florence, because she could not do that in Manila and New York where she told The FilAm, the noise never stops. “I always longed to get away from the confusion of the city so I became a painter of nature,” she said. “Unlike Manila and New York, Florence then was contained, not busy at all. You could walk the entire city in half a day, and in just a few minutes from the center, you could be in the breathtaking countryside of Chianti and other medieval towns rich in history and natural beauty.”

Florence would be her home for two years before she moved to Sweden, where she continued to paint, exhibit, and teach art. She was introduced to the famous Swedish painter Staffan Hallstrom, born in 1914, who became her initial mentor upon arrival in Scandinavia. Hallstrom generously allowed her and other young artists to work in his studio in the old part of Stockholm City for free. Apart from art techniques, he taught Lolita the art of coping with the challenges of being a serious painter.

She met Frank while visiting her sister Lilia Beavers in California. He was then working as a Vice-President for the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the U.S. Her sister Lilia worked for the company’s office in L.A. Lolita then moved from Sweden to New York City to work for the United Nations using her knowledge of languages while at the same time getting to know Frank. They married in 1980, and have three children, Fredrik Antoine, Grace Erlinda, and Frank Alexander.

‘Path to the Woods’ Oil on Canvas 36 X 48 inches Sweden, 1984

‘Path to the Woods’
Oil on Canvas
36 X 48 inches
Sweden, 1984

“Frank never stopped me from being an artist. I continued with my art. I was able to juggle my arts, my community work, my family, my husband,” she said breaking into gentle laughter.

Across Europe, Asia and the U.S., she participated in group exhibits and mounted her solo shows one after the other. In 1991, she exhibited at the UNESCO in Paris, and in 1999, she was part of an exhibit of internationally acclaimed artists and writers, such as Sumet Jumsai, Dale Chihuly, Paulo Coelho, Hans Erni, Laura Esquivel, etc. at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In that same year, Lolita became the first Filipina to solo-exhibit at the Casa di Dante (family home to Divine comedy author, Dante Alighieri) in Florence. In 2006, after another exhibit in Paris, she participated in the “Art for Peace” auction at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to benefit Atlantic College in Wales.

Lolita went back to Manila in 2011 to exhibit at the Ayala Museum and the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences. In 2013 she was once again in Florence to do a one-woman exhibition at the prestigious Palazzo Medici Riccardi Museum. In 2014, she was honored by then Philippine President Benigno Aquino III at the Malacanang Palace with the Pamana ng Pilipino award for her cultural and artistic accomplishments overseas.

Another milestone came in 2017 by way of the distinguished Premio Lorenzo Il Magnifico, a prestigious award granted by the Academia Internazionale Medicea (The International Medici Academy) in Florence to those who excel in promoting the humanities, art, culture, science, politics, in keeping alive the legacy of the greatest Patron of Renaissance Art, Lorenzo Medici, the Magnificent.
She is the first Filipino to be awarded joining the ranks of previous honorees, such as opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Spadolini, actor Vittorio Gassman, and others.

When they were younger, her children would insist on being involved in her creative process. Recalled her son Fredrik Antoine “I would help my mom with some of her pieces, mix colors on the palette until the late hours of the night.” It felt great, he added, seeing his mother’s paintings grace the Stamford Museum & Nature Center at her solo exhibit in 2016, “in the hometown where she raised me.” The Savage family moved to Connecticut after living for 15 years in New York’s Central Park West (and being neighbors with personalities like Michael Douglas, John Lithgow, Bill Moyers and Dick Cavett).

“She’s very magnetic,” said Grace, Lolita’s daughter. “I always see my mother in her work. It could start from anywhere, from the sketch of a rock, to someone sitting on a train, to a leaf on a tree.”

Her youngest son Frankie said, “I am happy that my mom is an artist. Every society thrives because of artists who enrich our human culture.”

Art – and for the most part, life — has been good to Lolita.

“As I think back, how I did all that?” she wondered as if pensively. “God seems to give you all that energy at every stage of life.”

© The FilAm 2018

‘Silent Snow’ Oil on Canvas 36 X 48 inches Sweden, 1982

‘Silent Snow’
Oil on Canvas
36 X 48 inches
Sweden, 1982

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