Mag Anak - the making of a driftwood sculpture of Philippine Eagles

October, 2016



The Philippine Eagle. Or in Filipino, the Haring Ibon or King Bird. And it is; with a wingspan of two metres it is officially (at least according to Wikipedia) the largest extant eagle in the world. There we go, one more over the Western world!  Mind you, the Bald Eagle makes the largest nests.


I have precious few sculptures in public spaces here in the Philippines, so was really excited by the prospect of making a sculpture of the Philippine Eagle for the opening of the Philippines first 6D theatre – the Agila Flying Theatre – in Enchanted Kingdom, the Philippines’ one and only theme park.


As always, I started with a sketch. And then another, and another, until something that felt right appeared.The lobby of the Agila Flying theatre rises a whopping 20m high so the sculpture needed elevation. I chose to make a six metre high tower of 19th century Molave wood railway sleepers recovered from the sugarcane plantations. This worked from so many different perspectives. Not only was Enchanted Kingdom partially built on a sugarcane plantation, but the sugarcane plantations, with their super-efficient steam railways, reclaimed territory from the eagles and signalled in the era of massive human expansion and habitat loss for the raptor which has ultimately led the bird to the very brink of extinction.


I wanted the tower to be narrow and precarious to communicate this issue of lack of territory. A pair of mating eagles need around 13,000 hectares of territory and in a country where you can hardly walk half a kilometre without finding a Nipa hut (the indigenous cottage) it’s a marvel there are even 400 breeding pairs left! It really seems to me that the Philippine Eagle has no place in our brave new world. We kill it for sport, gun it down for food, capture it as a trophy to our prowess and stuff it for posterity. Now it seems that it is only through our direct intervention that we can stave off the extinction of this majestic animal.


Like many other birds, the Philippine Eagle forms a very close bond with its partner. A pair will mate for life and rear an eaglet roughly once every two years. I visited Davao City’s Philippine Eagle Centre on several occasions to research the bird and one of the many things that struck me from what I learnt during my research concerned this close bond; the courtship process does not end with the birth of the first eaglet. Once the eaglet has flown the nest, the parents will rekindle their relationship and one of the ways they do this is by talon gripping. They will fly up high, face one another, grip talons and plummet down through the skies. They come out of their embrace heart-stoppingly close to the ground. What a way to keep the spark alight!


My sculpture was going to be oriented around a family of eagles. Since the female eagle is larger than the male, in fact the male is often fairly skittish around its mate (nothing to learn here!), I decided the female would be coming in to land at the top of the sculpture. The Male would be tending to the eaglet, and would be placed halfway down the tower, looking up at his landing mate. The eaglet would be alongside the Male looking up at its Daddy. The sculpture’s name reflects the unity of the family circle. “Mag-Anak”, or Family in Tagalog, “Enduring and Unconditional Love”.


At the base of the sculpture I decided to place polished black Nephrite boulders. This signifies the land. From an engineering standpoint, these boulders also stabilise the sculpture and cover the substantial stainless steel frame that holds the tower and sculptures firm. Each of the 9 posts making the tower were bored out to accommodate a thick 75mm stainless steel tube that rises to the top and ultimately holds the weight of each eagle. Boring the posts and welding the armature took 4 of us two months to complete. The stone work was also very time consuming. I always enjoy a trip to the quarry and at the end of 2015 I ventured forth to select 10 pieces of 1 ton or more boulders. We finished shaping, fitting and reinforcing them 8 months later.


Originally I estimated I would complete the sculpture within 6 months, however as with a lot of the projects I undertake, the complexities of making a structurally sound monumental sculpture from long dead wood ensure that not a day goes by without another problem cropping up which has to be overcome. Not to mention delays caused by my re-doing elements of the sculpture six or seven times over to get to something that I was happy with. Luckily, the building of the Agila Flying theatre took longer than anticipated and this allowed me to spend an extra 6 months working on the sculpture.


The Agila Flying Theatre opens mid-December 2016 and is well worth a visit. There are many neat aspects about this latest attraction. In a country where this type of entertainment is often a little basic, this theatre is strikingly world class, and although fundamentally a joy ride, the experience is oriented toward the cultural and environmental awareness and the viewer will hopefully come away from the experience with a richer knowledge of the diversity of our world and more importantly an understanding of how the individual can make a huge difference in shaping a sustainable environment for our future generations


Sincere thanks go out to Shiori Sudo and Michael Needham who commissioned the sculpture as a gift upon the opening of the Agila Flying Theatre.





James Doran Webb