In memoriam: Filipina artist Araceli Dans has passed at 95

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Araceli Dans has passed
Artist Araceli Dans

In celebration of the Filipina artist, we look back at her life as a painter, art educator, and beloved figure to many



Renowned Filipina artist Araceli Limcaco Dans, celebrated for her exquisite calado embroidery paintings, passed away at the age of 95 on May 18, 2024. Affectionately known as “Cheloy,” Dans was a beloved mother, grandmother, colleague, friend, and artistic contemporary. 

Dans’ son Benjo shared the news of her passing on Facebook, expressing how much she will be deeply missed. “Early on Saturday morning, my mom finally earned her angel wings and passed away. She leaves a void in our hearts that are also overflowing with so much love. It is true that our collective hearts have broken into a thousand pieces over you, but we don’t want to feel any other way because it is a small price for the experience of your love,” he wrote. 

A wake was held for Dans at the Arlington Memorial Chapel on Araneta Ave. in Quezon City, with her inurnment taking place on the morning of May 22nd.

Araceli Dans portrait
Araceli Limcaco Dans, ‘Self Portrait with Calado.’ Location unknown

When Linda Nochlin wrote the essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” in 1971, it was considered a game-changing work in feminist art history.

“For a woman to opt for a career at all—much less for a career in art, has required a certain amount of individuality, both in the past and at present… She must in any case have a good strong streak of rebellion in her to make her way in the world of art at all, rather than submitting to the socially approved role of wife and mother, the only role to which every social institution consigns her automatically,” she wrote. 

Araceli Dans painting
‘Burdado.’ Photo from

Dans herself defied this notion that motherhood is incompatible with artistic greatness, with an exceptional career while raising 10 children with her husband, the late technocrat and former Minister of Transportation and Communication, Jose P. Dans, Jr.

In memory of the great artist, we look at her life and work in her incredible 95 years. 


Early life of Araceli Dans

Born in 1929, Dans displayed prodigious talent from a young age, drawing at just eight years old. Dans lived through the difficulties and strife of World War II, surviving the heavy bombing of Manila, and fleeing Malate as a young teenager, withholding only the clothes on her back and her palette box. Dans had to paint out of necessity, becoming the breadwinner of her family.

During the Japanese occupation, she would draw propaganda comics. Later, as a high school student at the Philippine Women’s University, she took commissioned portraits of American soldiers.

Araceli Dans photo
A vintage photograph of Dans. Photo from UP Alumni

In the late 1940s, at around 16 years old, she enrolled at the University of the Philippines. In 1948, the School of Fine Arts was a ruin, bombed out by the war in what is now the Department of Justice building in Padre Faura. By the following year, she moved to the new campus in Diliman.

Her skill was so advanced that National Artist Fernando Amorsolo recognized her prodigious talent, and allowed her to complete a fine arts degree from the University of the Philippines in only three years so she could begin her painting career.

Amorsolo, the dean at the time, would become her mentor along with other faculty members, including sculptor and National Artist Guillermo Tolentino. Her classmates included Napoleon Abueva and Larry Alcala, both National Artists, as well as esteemed painter Juvenal Sansô.

At the time, Dans would support her family by painting portraits of her classmates for P20 each. Once, the director of the National Museum bought a painting that fetched the then-significant sum of P80. “I felt like I had won the sweepstakes,” she recalls. “The tuition for one semester at the time was P70.”

READ MORE: Araceli Dans at 86: ‘I just paint and paint’

Araceli Dans painting
The exquisite ‘Gift From the Sea I’ acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 in. 2021

This contrasts with recent times when the painting “Gift from the Sea” sold at a Leon Gallery auction in 2021 for $44,069 (P2,102,400). It was painted in 2020, meaning that Dans already painted the exquisite work in her 90s.



Calado paintings with a glowing inner life

The paintings of Dans are instantly recognizable for her meticulous depictions of delicate embroidery, vibrant flowers, and other textured still lifes, often against dark backgrounds that highlight her subjects in a stark manner. 

Araceli Dans painting
‘Callado’ watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 in. (1992)

She is known for painting the calado in watercolor, acrylic, and oil paint mediums. The calado, a traditional Philippine open-thread work pattern, is commonly used in barong Tagalog. Just like how the calado artisans require precision, patience, and skill to pull apart and put together the fibers, so did Dans through her paintbrush, with meticulous attention to detail in the lace-like textures.

Dans once said, “I found myself in still life. Not many people around the world do still life. And I looked for original ways of doing still life. Why does everything have to be on a table? Why always fruits and flowers? Why not rags, objects inside old cartons?”

She found her voice in these detailed still lifes with calado fabrics and domestic scenes that possessed a glowing sense of inner life. 


Just like how the calado artisans require precision, patience, and skill to pull apart and put together the fibers, so did Dans through her paintbrush, with meticulous attention to detail in the lace-like textures.


An exceptional career as a female artist

Throughout her career, Dans purposely forged her own artistic path distinct from the styles of many of the renowned, distinctly male, artists at the time. 

Dans married her college sweetheart, engineering student Jose “Totoy” Dans Jr. In 1950, the year both students graduated, the two were married in the first-ever UP Diliman wedding. Amid raising her large family with children, she painted prolifically at night, cultivating her solo career as an artist and even portrait painter while simultaneously developing an esteemed career as an art educator. 

Araceli Dans painting
‘Pag-sikat ng Araw’ watercolor on paper, 30 x 22 in. 2000. Photo from Leon Gallery

Dans has exhibited at museums and galleries around the world with over 100 exhibitions. She has received numerous awards along the way, including the CCP’s Centennial Awards, the Citizen’s Award for Television, and the Mariang Maya Award. Many of her paintings are displayed at the National Museum of Fine Arts. Besides her career as a painter, Dans was an active member of the academe, establishing programs that helped cultivate art education in the Philippines.

Dans founded the fine arts program of the Philippine Women’s University in 1950, which she headed for 13 years. Later, in 1963, she helped reorganize the art education program of the Ateneo de Manila Grade School. She also founded the Philippine Art Educators Association with her contemporary and renowned visual artist and printmaker, Brenda Fajardo. The artist displayed a generous attitude towards sharing a love for art, with anecdotes of Dans teaching painting to folks out of the academe, from her physical therapist to her gardener. 

In 2011, Dans held a grand retrospective at the Ayala Museum, bringing together 185 of her works from private collections and institutions. On Oct. 24, 2018, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit during the National Artists Ceremony in Malacañang Palace.


Dans remained dedicated to perpetually honing her skills, once stating: “I can never stop painting. I should paint for as long as I have my eyes and mind and thoughts.”

Araceli Limcaco Dans defied norms about women’s roles to become a renowned Filipina painter, masterfully rendering calado embroidery scenes while raising 10 children and revolutionizing the landscape of art education in the Philippines.

Until her 90s, Dans continued to paint, vigorously and full of life. 

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