”I want to be notorious rather than famous. Fame has too much responsibility. People forget you are human.”
”The mud wall is masculine – physically strong and durable. The straw is feminine – delicate as a thread. Its color is sun and gold.”
”Even the team of mules, which came to drag away the dead bull, moved with drama and color I had never seen before.”
– Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia
During our most recent visit to Tucson we visited the studio of Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia. DeGrazia gained fame and credibility as a painter when his painting of young Native American children (Los Ninos) was selected by UNICEF for their Christmas card in 1960. Until that time he had struggled to make a living as a painter and his work was not well regarded in some circles.
DeGrazia was a fascinating and brillant man. He designed and built by hand the beautiful building that houses his collection of paintings. He was a composer, sculptor, writer and actor. He was a completely self made man. He was born in a mining camp in Arizona and then moved to Italy when his father lost his job in Arizona. Upon returning to the United States he attended high school – graduating at 23 years of age. He eventually attended the University of Arizona where he earned two bachelor degrees and a masters in fine art.
The focus of much of Degrazia’s paintings was religous in nature. His largest collections centered around Padre Kino, Cabeza de Vaca and Yaqui Easter. He also has a gallery paintings devoted to the bull fight that he painted after attending a bull fight in Mexico.
Father Kino was the first Spanish missionary to enter what is now Arizona and begin the process of converting indigenous peoples to Catholicism. DeGrazia believed deeply that this was a noble calling and painted many works of Father Kino. One of his paintings of Father Kino is titled “Heathen Indians Receive Kino with Arches and Crosses”.
DeGrazia was fascinated with the life and adventures of Cabeza de Vaca. Cabeza was the leader of a Spanish expedition of 600 conquistadors that landed in Florida in 1527.
The purpose of this expedition was to “conquer the Indians, convert them to Christianity, and find the seven cities of gold.” The expedition failed miserably as Cabeza was only one of only four members of the expedition to survive and it took nine years to reach Arizona. The seven cities of gold were never found. But none the less DeGrazia admired the bravery and tenacity of Cabeza and painted an entire collection depicting his adventures.
The photo directly below (obtained from internet) shows DeGrazia burning some of his paintings. As DeGrazia paintings became more valuable and he came to understand that his estate would be taxed on the market value of his works he tried to donate many of the works to various organizations. When that tactic did not work he gathered 100 of his paintings, loaded the paintings onto pack horses and rode into the Superstition Mountains and burned them rather than burden his family with an inheritance tax.
The Gallery in the Sun is definitely worth a visit. The studios and grounds are beautiful, his paintings are as colorful and interesting as the man himself.