By Maria Feona Imperial, VERA Files
Perhaps for breaking a world record, she has already found the answer to every jigsaw puzzle ever made. But Georgina Gil-Lacuna has one more left unresolved: the puzzle of time. And she likes it that way.
Sharp enough to be the world’s fastest jigsaw puzzle maker, the 61-year-old retired businesswoman confessed, “I don’t wear a watch. I don’t mind if it’s too late already.”
Every day, she devotes three to four hours of alone time completing her puzzles, usually while watching television. She has developed a scheme of sorting out the pieces: first by color, then by their monotone shades. With utmost concentration, she fits them together meticulously, adding up to her Guinness-awarded collection of 1,028 puzzles. And just like 1028, 3 a.m., at the end of the day, becomes nothing but a number.
Like the drooping pocket watches in Salvador Dali’s La Persistencia de la Memoria (The Persistence of Memory), the puzzle Lacuna best identifies herself with, the ticking of clocks doesn’t matter to her anymore. “When I love something I’m doing, I don’t stop,” she said.
Her patience and perseverance, her secrets to enduring the painstaking process, were built on humble beginnings. Before she had the money to travel and pursue such expensive hobby, she had her own “struggle for survival.”
She remembers how she used to peddle goods in small department stores and Cubao streets.
“After I graduated from a private high school, life began to be miserable when my parents could not afford to bring me to college anymore,” she said. As the eldest child, she had to earn a living at 16.
But the struggle was short-lived for someone who never gave up walking and working even until dawn. Lacuna was able to start a clothing line that soon became “Buntis,” the leading manufacturer of maternity dresses in the country. “At 27, I was already able to buy a house,” she said.
How she got into collecting puzzles was inspired by a mother-and-son bonding experience. During one of their travels to Hongkong, she bought and completed what turned out to be her all–time favorite, a 5,000-piece Disney jigsaw for her only child Gino who was then 2 years old.
Lacuna’s discovery: “When I started my first puzzle, which, for a beginner was a large amount of pieces, I realized I can do the challenge. From there on, I kept on traveling around the world, collecting puzzles.”
In the early years of her collection, she opted for the masterworks of Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh and puzzles that bore images of the places she traveled, especially those that resembled her spiritual faith such as the Sistine Chapel.
“My collection was getting bigger yet I had no plans to compete back then,” she said.
Lacuna’s collection is no longer limited to the classics—it now encompasses colorful globes, crystal pandas, Coke collectibles, underwater adventures, royal castles, the Vampire Diaries, 3D, and even 4D or puzzle-on-puzzle miniatures of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Mayan Pyramids.
Lacuna cited the benefits of completing jigsaw: “The good thing about jigsaw is it enhances mental ability to work and be organized. Your left and right brain functions, and you become sharper.”
And, prodded by the businesswoman in her, she said, “Unlike other puzzles, such as crossword, you can sell it upon completion and make more money.”
If it hadn’t been for the Guinness she was awarded last year, Lacuna might never have opened her collection for public viewing.
“My puzzles used to be for my eyes only,” she said. It was due to popular demand that Puzzle Mansion became a tourist attraction in Tagaytay.
“Upon learning through the news that I’ve been awarded a Guinness record, the next day, people started coming by. It became an overnight sensation,” she said.
Clad in a long dress and adorned with a good amount of make-up, on weekends, she transforms into the Puzzle Queen who personally tours visitors around her mansion and thoroughly explains to them the history behind every work of art.
“I let children touch my puzzles so they can probably aim for something like this, so they can bring honor to the country and legacy to their families,” Lacuna said.
She believes that someday, these children will find themselves looking no longer on the puzzle but on the actual place itself. “While you are fitting puzzle pieces together, you might be building up your dream,” she added.
Lacuna’s greatest realization: “It pays to be hardworking and focused. It pays to be a good person that does not lie. You could be a businesswoman without being rude.”
Her businesses are now manned by workers and relatives who have stayed with her for almost 35 years.
“I must have been a good boss,” she said. She plans to pass on her collection to the same people someday, hopefully in a bigger museum by that time.
Ravensburger puzzle for the next Guinness
The world record doesn’t stop her from making another history. Lacuna is working on a 32,000-piece puzzle measuring 17 by 6 feet wide which features retrospective brightly colored images of Keith Haring’s artwork. She is keen to finish what will be the largest puzzle in the world before July 2013, in time for the Guinness.
Said Lacuna: “I never knew that at the age of 61, I’ll be Guinness record holder. I never knew that a high school graduate can later live a comfortable life. God is good to me.”
(The writer is a journalism student at the University of the Philippines-Diliman who submitted this story to her Journ 101 class under VERA Files trustee Yvonne T. Chua. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")