First Press (feature article for Tatler Philippines)

At 24, AVH Hartendorp came to the Philippines from the United States in 1917 as a high school teacher and soon realized that he was a man of letters and an editor to boot By John Silva. Images courtesy of the Ortigas Foundation Library

Well-respected publisher, writer and editor Abraham van Heyningen Hartendorp

After a series of editorial jobs, Abraham Van Heyningen “AVH” Hartendorp (1893-1975) became the sole owner of the Philippine Magazine in 1929. Since 1904, the publication was a teacher’s magazine but upon ownership, Hartendorp revamped its mission and transformed it into a literary and cultural magazine. After a generation of American education and acculturation, Hartendorp saw budding Filipino painters and illustrators familiar with modern art forms breaking away from the classical and religious tone of past works. There were now a growing number of local writers in English sprouting from various parts of the country due to the rigorous American educational system.

Hartendorp invited these promising artists and writers, some just graduating from high school, to grace the magazine. He was prescient in choosing artists: a young Fernando Amorsolo, then an illustrator, and receiving commissions for portraits interested Hartendorp. Amorsolo had an indigenous sensibility, a pride in local life and people, endowing them with a sense of mirth, even flirtation. This upbeat mood was perfect for a monthly magazine in tune with a country progressing at a fast clip. Other artists expanded Amorsolo’s Filipino genre and were chosen, as in the case of Isidro Ancheta’s The Mountain Province (May 1937 issue) for an impressionistic rendition of a distant hillside town. Or Diosdado M Lorenzo’s The Pasig River (May 1935) with a light blue sky overwhelmed by a dominant white blanket of clouds over a quickly rendered scene of river activity. Lorenzo, with years of living and being influenced in Italy, returned home to be described as an early modernist. Readers who hankered for the past were comforted by occasional appearances of the works of Jorge Pineda and Fabian de la Rosa, the latter’s Vendedora de Maiz or Corn Vendors (Nov 1930), for example, a charming and graceful scene of native sellers.

A photo in an ad of San Juan Heights, a real-estate development at that time, which appeared on the April 1937 issue of the magazine

For young writers, many saw their work published for the first time in a magazine. NVM Gonzalez was just 17 years old, a recent high school graduate when he was invited to submit his poems and his first published short story, the ghoulish Dawn and the Muddy Road, which appeared in the April 1933 issue. Many more distinguished writers became part of the magazine including Edilberto Tiempo, Bienvenido Santos, Sinai Hamada, Gilbert Perez, Francisco Arcellana, Jose Garcia Villa, Edith Tiempo, Manuel Arguilla and other regionally known writers. Many of these writers and artists were eventually awarded National Artist status. The magazine’s own title was unique in those days which we take for granted today. Hartendorp argued against the then use of the prevalent country name “The Philippine Islands”. A translated holdover from the Spanish nomenclature “Las Yslas Filipinas”, he found the description of a country entering commonwealth and independence status “diminutive” and “depreciatory”. He argued that Japan was not called Japanese Islands nor England for that matter.

Hartendorp, recognized as a wordsmith, managed to persuade the style committee drafters of the 1935 constitution to adopt the designation “The Philippines” in the constitution. With an enshrined name resonating a veneer of sovereignty, the country owes a debt of gratitude to Hartendorp. Philippine Magazine was a first with a variety of columns making it a general interest magazine, a term comparable to today’s “Lifestyle” terminology. It boasted attractive and delightful covers so in keeping with the magazine standards of the day. There were robust editorials, short stories, poetry, ethnographic pieces on the Cordilleras and Mindanao (a Hartendorp bias), home, travel, food, and personal musings. This catholic taste for a range of topics can be gleaned from a line of a Whitman-esque poem he wrote in choosing what sort of man he would be. He settled for “confident”, “genial” and “companionable”. In choosing what life he wanted, he wrote, “… I’ll take the whole of life…” His magazine reflected that. The advertisements that appeared in the magazine reflected the cosmopolitan tastes of its readers. Baguio, a summer destination for foreigners and locals advertised. So did automobiles and new real estate developments. There were also print ads for movie cameras and projectors, portable phonographs, and educational toys. And for the ladies, all the latest perfumeries, soaps, and lotions from abroad. Hartendorp saw his magazine shattered when the Japanese Occupation Forces arrived in late 1941.

Some of the advertisements published in the Philippine Magazine include automobile brands, travel and real estate
Philippine Magazine was a first with a variety of columns making it a general interest magazine, a term comparable to today’s “Lifestyle” terminology

His 5,000-volume Filipiniana library, manuscripts, paintings, drawings, a piano, and all back copies of Philippine Magazine were destroyed. Interned Santo Tomas University for the duration of the war, he secretly documented, at the risk of his life, those years of captivity to later publish The Santo Tomas Story (McGraw-Hill 1964) and in 1967, his two-volume opus The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines. Both critically acclaimed publications overshadowed his Philippine Magazine editorial past, by then almost 30 years had passed, including a destructive war wiping away a previous idyllic decade that was the magazine’s assignation. Any writer, seeing their piece or work on a printed publication of worth can only be, after much pride and satisfaction, prodded further to pursue the craft. Many contributors did and garnered the accolades later. Such was the contribution of AVH Hartendorp’s Philippine Magazine to English writing and the arts for the country.

Related article feature from Tatler 

The Flag Goes By by Gavino Reyes Congson (November 1939)