Maria Teresa Montelibano

  • Born: September 21, 1941
  • Died: October 27, 2021
  • Location: Alexandria, Virginia

Tribute & Message From The Family

Folk Art Collector and Educator

Maria Teresa Montelibano, a folk art collector and educator whose art and textile collections can be viewed in Philippine museums, died of cancer on October 27, 2021, in Ajijic, Mexico. She was 80.

Mara, as she was known for most of her life, was born in Manila, the Philippines, in 1941. As a child, she lost her father during World War II, and would later establish her first collection's ongoing exhibit to honor him, naming it the Jose Garcia Montelibano Gallery.

Despite Mara's early loss, she often recounted the adventures of her childhood fondly, describing her love of climbing trees, reading comic books, roaming the halls of the hospital that her grandfather had founded, and exploring corners of Manila on her own. Mara attended the University of the Philippines Diliman and was a member of the Sigma Delta sorority. She earned a bachelor's degree in foreign service there, and went on to earn her master's degree in political science from the University of Hawaii Manoa as an East-West Center fellow. She continued her post-graduate studies at Columbia University, the University of Kentucky, and George Mason University (A.B.D.).

Mara taught political science at Mindanao State University and Ateneo de Manila University, and subsequently worked on international program development at the University of Kentucky, the University of Tennessee, and Texas A&M University. She then worked in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Agency for International Development in Islamabad, Pakistan. She lived in several countries (most notably Pakistan, the Republic of Georgia, Egypt, Nepal, Botswana, Costa Rica, and Mexico), developing her passion for collecting folk art, folk toys, and textiles. "I started collecting folk toys because each is made by someone personally related to the child...the love and whimsy is self-evident. At the same time, each folk toy has a legend relating to the cultural heritage of the child." (December 9, 2020)

Over time it became clear that her interest was no mere hobby, and Mara developed serious acquisition plans for the purpose of bringing the collection to her native Philippines. She deepened her research into various traditional craft and textile techniques, laughingly admitting that she couldn't go anywhere on earth without immediately seeking out the nearest artisan or workshop.

Mara's dearly held dream was realized at the 1998 opening of the aforementioned JGM Gallery at the Negros Museum in Bacolod City, Philippines. This was followed by the 2003 opening of a toy gallery at the Children's Museum of Sagay City, and a collection of textile arts at the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City in 2015.

Exploring almost every continent over several decades of her life, Mara greatly enjoyed spending time with her family and close friends wherever she traveled and lived. Her love of gardening developed broadly as she cultivated a wide variety of flowers and trees in a myriad of climates: rare orchids and hibiscus in the Philippines, anthuriums and birds of paradise in Costa Rica, unusual daylilies and dogwoods in Virginia (to name just a few).

Prior to relocating to Mexico in early 2021, Mara resided in Alexandria, Virginia, and Playas del Coco, Costa Rica. A true global citizen, she always had an upcoming trip on her calendar and special people to see. She will be missed by many.

Mara is survived by her daughters Sarina Vetterli (John) and Jessica Morgan; her grandsons Colin, Joshua, and Alexander Vetterli, and granddaughter Morgan Koval; her siblings Roberto Montelibano (Tess), Elizabeth Boucher Cosgrove (Jim), Charles Boucher, and Philip Boucher (Flora). She is preceded in death by her sibling Donnie Montelibano (Linda).

A mass tribute for Mara Montelibano is Tuesday, November 9, 2021 at 9:00 am Manila time.

At Mara's request, her remains will be scattered in the Pacific Ocean in a private ceremony. To share a memory of Mara or a treasured photo, please visit her online memorial page at