The jewelry, furniture, and home décor of a Filipino-Chinese Davaoeña is making waves in the international design scene. Ann Tiukinhoy Pamintuan has garnered attention in New York, London, Sweden, and Moscow.
Her pieces have twice been featured in the International Design Yearbook and she is also the first female Asian designer to be featured in the design annual. But what makes her achievements more noteworthy is that she has never had any formal arts training, and her design career began as a hobby.
Pamintuan’s sophisticated designs and excellent craftsmanship have helped put Philippine design in the international limelight. She is a pioneering member of Movement 8, an alliance of progressive Filipino designers gaining worldwide recognition from Manila to Frankfurt, Paris, Tokyo, and Milan.
From her experimentation with leaves and electroplating in the early 1990s to her progression to nature-inspired metal furniture in the 2000s, she has turned her creative pastime into a successful export enterprise. Pamintuan’s award-winning furniture and décor can be seen locally at the Palms Country Club, Makati Shangri-La Hotel, InterContinental Manila, and Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila.
She acknowledges that her Chinese roots shape her artistic sensibility and entrepreneurial skill. She specifically attributes her capacity for hard work, single-mindedness, and diligence to her father, Felix Tiukinhoy, and her forebears who migrated from Xiamen in Fujian, China.
Her maiden name bears her Chinese lineage. “We come from the same clan as the rest of the Tius, most of whom were migrants to the Visayas from Xiamen, known as Amoy in the earlier part of the 20th century,” relates the designer. “My grandfather chose to have his first names Kin Hoy appended to Tiu, hence the name.”
At an exhibit entitled “AnnTiu.Alchemy” at the Yuchengco Museum, Pamintuan returns to her roots. The incidental genesis of her design history began in the early 1990s, when she started electroplating flora from her own garden in gold, silver, and copper.
Growing up in Surigao, where she was surrounded by nature, strengthened her impulse to capture and preserve the beauty of botanicals. This experimentation with fusing organic materials and metal gave birth to her jewelry line, AnnTiu, in 1993.
These early forays into jewelry became the springboard for working on metal wire and welding them into tabletop accessories such as vases and bowls. Her home décor eventually became bigger, grander, morphing into furniture and sculpture collections, echoing cocoons, ginkgo leaves, bubbles, and weaves. Her venture into furniture and sculpture earned her both local and international recognition.
Asked why she decided to return to her origins as a jewelry designer, Pamintuan replies “I have always been interested in designing jewelry. Despite my seeming preoccupation with furniture and sculpture, I kept making jewelry pieces, although I did not market them.”
No matter the scale, her design process for each piece is the same. She easily shifts from designing intimate jewelry to huge social furniture without fear of losing her sense of proportion. Her early forays into jewelry became the inspiration for her award-winning furniture line. “I always came up with my own jewelry and people would ask, ‘Where did you get those?’ My buyers ask, ‘Can we also carry that in our furniture line?”
Pamintuan’s jewelry has been described as “metal twisted and formed, following the organic flow of nature.” Organic objects—leaves, roots, twigs, and flowers—retain their fragility and, at the same time, gain immortality after being fused with metal.
The artist’s creations bridge fine art and fashion, and the understanding of art as design, design as art. She keeps the integrity of the piece, first as artistic expression, second as functional form.
Art critic Cid Reyes noted, “Caprice and charm may initially seduce the viewer into marveling at these works, but it is the pure pleasure of their stiffness and formality that invite prolonged contemplation.”
The designer admits, however, that the process is not as easy as it sounds. “Since I did not have any formal training or apprenticeship in what I was doing, I learned the hard way at the workshop. There were hits and misses, a lot of trial and error.”
In the beginning, Pamintuan spent a lot of time putting something together, and then breaking it apart to make it better. Today, she is much more confident of the direction she wants her designs to take.