From Love Letters to Oil Paintings: The Artistic Journey of Jose (Toting) F. Arguelles

By Magdalena Arguelles

My Tatay, Jose F. Arguelles (1930-2010), known as ‘Toting’  to family and community was born in La Carlota, Negros Occidental, Philippines and grew up in Iloilo City, Iloilo. He came of age during World War II, and his education was greatly influenced by the US educational system.

Rice Field, Iloilo, Oil on canvas, 1993, 12 x 16 inches

American and British literature had a profound impact on him. I remember him reciting poems of Longfellow and Frost, and avidly reading the works of Dickens, Twain and L’Amour. Along with his love of literature, he enjoyed making parols, alkansiyas (piggy banks), sling shots and watercolor postcards.

As a young man, he drew ink drawings on the love letters to my Naynay and painted watercolor postcards of Iloilo landscapes which he sent to relatives abroad.

Visayan Landscape, Iloilo, Oil on canvas, 1984, 16 x 18 inches

I remember the elaborate colorful parols he made with intricate winter scenes modeled after the Christmas card scenes he received from our relatives in the US, using cotton for the snow.

He made slingshots out of found hardwood, and alkansiyas out of coconuts decorated with eyes and tails so they resembled little pigs.

Nipa and Bamboo Hut, Iloilo, Oil on canvas, 1992, 13 x 17 inches

When my family immigrated to the US, he started to explore oil painting. He taught himself how to work with the medium and later perfected his own technique with the help of some Bob Ross pointers.

The subject matter for his paintings were still lives of flowers or vegetables he grew, bucolic landscapes and rural folks of the provinces of Iloilo, cityscapes of Iloilo City and seascapes of Ajuy, Iloilo and Nasidman Island.

Feast of Isda, Oil on canvas, 1999, 13″ x 16″

Despite the hardship of establishing himself as a civil engineer in Chicago and raising four children with Nay (Magdalena), he found time to paint. He gave many of his paintings to family, colleagues and friends.

Washing Clothes, Oil on canvas, 1999, 13″ x 16″

On the back of some of them, he wrote that if the current owner tires of the painting, to please not discard it, but pass it on to an admirer.

I think he would be grinning happily knowing that his paintings are being shared in this newsletter with his kababayans!

Magdalena Arguelles (@trisikad3 on IG) was born in Iloilo City and grew up in Chicago. She is a clinical pharmacist and a mixed media artist. Her paintings explore her childhood memories of Iloilo, and how they’ve shaped her as she assimilated into American culture. She paints with water-based mediums, incorporating collage and printmaking techniques to create images within her paintings.


12 responses to “From Love Letters to Oil Paintings: The Artistic Journey of Jose (Toting) F. Arguelles”

  1. Mae Lant Avatar
    Mae Lant

    He is a genius! Great paintings which showed passion in the colors he used.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1.  Avatar

      Thank you for your kind words

  2. Wow, this is amazing Maggie! Thank you for sharing with us your father’s works. He captured Iloilo landscapes wonderfully it made me miss the Philippines looking at them.

    1.  Avatar

      Salamat Geri! Whenever I visit I feel
      his presence in the landscape❤️

  3. Nancy C Haney Avatar
    Nancy C Haney

    I loved reading and seeing your Dad’s beautiful paintings, how lucky are you to have such a talented Dad. You sure follow his lead, I love your paintings and cards! Thaks for sharing Maggie

    1.  Avatar

      Thank you for your kind words, Nancy. So happy he left us his love of his homeland through his art

  4. Emelyn Judge Avatar
    Emelyn Judge

    Dear Maggie, Thank you so much for sharing your Dad’s legacy. He is my Uncle and my Father’s brother. I feel a lot of nostalgia when I read about him. So many happy memories he has left behind.

  5. Mika Avatar

    ❣️❣️❣️❣️ wonderful article and paintings!

  6. Karen Parisian Avatar
    Karen Parisian

    Such a beautiful article, memories and images of his work. I love the notion of passing on the piece if you tire of it (but can’t imagine tiring of his work)!

  7. Richard P BUCKLEY JR Avatar
    Richard P BUCKLEY JR

    Hi Maggie,

    What a great story about your dad and his journey. I love his paintings.

    Have a great day, Buck

  8. Diane Determan Avatar
    Diane Determan

    Your father was such a lovely man. His love for the arts has a ripple effect seen in his children and grandchildren.

  9. June Jacobs Avatar
    June Jacobs

    Wow! I thought I knew him for years, but I had no idea he was so artistically gifted.

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