Juvy, Henry: the art of friendship | Inquirer Business

Juvy, Henry: the art of friendship

/ 05:15 AM March 24, 2019

Sanso and Sy Sr. inspired and encouraged each other.

Once in a while, bonds are formed between unlikely individuals in improbable locations and under less than ideal circumstances.

That Juvenal Sanso would become a painter of world renown and Henry Sy, Sr. an architect of retail experiences may be coincidental, but suggestive of how through the years, the friends inspired and encouraged the other.


Manila in the 1930s was the focal point of trade and commerce in the United States’ far-flung colony of the Philippines—Malay dominated, but steeped in the centuries-old practices of Spain and Mexico while culturally rooted in China and the tradewinds of Southeastern Asia.


Henry Sy was barely a teen, with what amounted to a lifetime of experience already behind him.  Coming over alone from China to help his father with but a few cents to his name, Henry landed unto a situation of despair at his father’s tiny general store.  Henry had to be industrious and directed in order to survive.

Juvenal “Juvy” Sanso, five years his junior was a mischievous little boy, but not the kind his blue eyes and the blondish hair might have betrayed. Juvy was Spanish or Catalan as his parents were proud to proclaim.

Juvenal Sanso

Señor Jose Sanso skillfully ran a business that made wrought iron fixtures for homes as classic European style was de moda at that time.

One day while minding the store, Henry was startled by a relentless knocking at the back door. Unable to see from his post at the counter, he called out for the person to enter but no one came.

Determined not to be fooled again, Henry stood behind the door and waited.  The moment the thud came through, Henry bolted from behind the door and grabbed a diminutive culprit by his shoulder and sando sleeve.

It was the boy from nearby whom he saw occasionally but never paid much mind to. Henry scolded the younger Juvy for being disruptive.


Little Juvy was contrite and Henry quickly realized that the boy was just being himself.

Their familiarity with each other grew as more pleasant encounters ensued and as Juvy matured into a young man.  They became good friends.

Even their elders grew to know and respect each other.  Once, the entire Sanso family had gone off to their farm property outside of Manila, when Henry’s father noticed the back door of the foundry open and untended at mid-day. The Sys made their way to the Sanso home to tell of the open door.  The Sansos arrived after dark surprised to find their shop neighbors waiting with concerned looks and felt much indebted to the Sys for their effort and genuine worry.

The onset of World War II leveled the country economically so that rich and poor were equally impoverished.  The Sansos were forced to seek sanctuary in the hills and survived on subsistence farming.

The Sys’ business in Manila, being smaller, managed to evade the aggressor’s licentious eyes but they were barely able to eke out an income as well.

When the initial battles had settled, and life and a sense of normalcy returned to occupied Manila, the Sanso father and teenage Juvy resorted to operating a karitela business in the center of the city.

After quite some time apart, Henry heard a familiar voice and drew back in surprise to see his once little friend, much grown. Juvy was enthusiastically dispatching karitelas to a swarm of people needing any means of transportation in the war-stricken city.

Their wartime experience, which included being wounded during the liberation, would influence their approach to their respective vocations.

For Juvy, he called it his “black period”, finding an outlet for expression in his early works that were paintings exclusively in black and white.

Henry Sy Sr.

For Henry, his ordeals were a test of strength that he would draw on throughout his life. Moreover, the ravages of war opened his eyes to the poor and destitute.

Seeking a means to restore their self-respect and finding in it an opportunity, he envisioned “shoes for every Filipino” and initiated a journey toward this goal.

After the war, their individual careers began to take shape.

Already gaining recognition locally, Juvy realized that in order to grow he needed to gain experience and hone his craft overseas. Painfully, it signified a break from involvement in his family’s business.  Juvy bore the decision with guilt knowing that his father and sister would be alone in rebuilding the wrought iron business.

It was a difficult professional journey for Juvy. Enduring the life of a struggling artist in Paris was difficult.  At one point he was so ill and feeble that he was checked into a hospital by concerned neighbors.  He took on odd design jobs.  It was just enough to afford him an apartment with a mat on the floor for a bed.

Henry on an early business trip, chanced upon Juvy in this state. To summon him, Henry threw pebbles up toward the apartment window. Juvy was embarrassed but made the most of the situation.  Henry cheered him up and insisted on paying for dinner. Henry held back tears, he would recount to the Sanso family back in Manila, sympathetic to Juvy’s depressed living conditions, while admiring his friend’s persistence.

With time, Juvy’s works grew in recognition, and that provided confidence.  Nevertheless, Juvy, as the meaning of his name suggests, was constantly youthful and jovial, especially in the company of Henry. Juvy was the initiator of the lighthearted banter he would poke at the reserved Henry regarding his success at business.

Juvy once spontaneously made light of a mishap when the sandals he was wearing came apart on a visit to a very posh location with Henry.

“He’s like the King of Shoes.   And here I am walking with my shoes going ‘Flap!’ Flap!’ We took that very naturally, and remained dignified.” recounted Juvy about their pretended poise despite the hilarity of the situation.

The robust roots of their friendship intertwined and extended to family.

“Our home was always open to Henry, and later on to Mrs. Sy.,” recounted Juvy. They would gallivant and enjoy the off hours with Felicidad Sy and Mina, Juvy’s sister, as part of the gang.

Henry instituted a tradition of Sunday lunches at his home for his growing family. He would prepare a meal that he shopped for and cooked himself.

A regular participant though not a relation by blood, was Juvy.  He had a seat of honor right beside Henry every Sunday.

During these lunches, it was common for Juvy, to be kidding Henry like a pesky little brother.

In the early years of Henry Sy’s Sunday tradition, a young boy snuck up behind Juvy and prodded the artist to make him a sketch.

The boy turned man and Hans Sy would become one of Sanso’s most active collectors.

“The beautiful, beautiful thing about our friendship, of course, for me is we’ve gone from one generation to the next with as much friendship. To me [this] was a great, great wonderful thing, so absolutely good, I would say ‘cloudless,’” Sanso says. —CONTRIBUTED

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The author is SMIC vice president for planning and corporate communications.

TAGS: friendship, Henry Sy

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