Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gallery in the Sun

We were not familiar with Arizona artist Ted DeGrazia, but all of the brochures highlighting local attractions of Tucson urged visitors to tour the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, e.g., "celebrating the centennial of acclaimed artist Ted DeGrazia."

As we drove onto the dirt road leading to a parking area on the outskirts of Tucson, we saw a large number of established cacti and other desert plants and wondered if the Gallery was an outdoor sculpture garden. The surrounding area was residential, so it seemed that the homes had sprung up around the gallery.

In fact, Ettore (Ted) DeGrazia (1909-1982) and his wife had moved to this isolated 10-acre property at the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the early 1950s to escape Tucson's spread. We found a few trails leading from the parking lot, one of which led to a chapel. Following a regional tradition of building a chapel or shrine in thanks for the land, DeGrazia's goal was to design and build a mission.

DeGrazia and his American Indian and Mexican friends, using traditional adobe bricks crafted on-site with what he termed “sun, sand, and sweat,” built the Mission in the Sun in 1952 in honor of Father Kino and dedicated to our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico.

One unique feature of the Mission is its open-air ceiling.

We met one of the staff at the Mission, and he said that the Mission is used regularly and that a relative of his had recently been married here.

The floor of the Mission is made of large stones and the benches are also stone. The altar was covered with photographs and other personal objects and prayers.

The walls of the Mission are graced with DeGrazia’s murals.

This is the entrance to gallery. Around these doors and around archways elsewhere on the grounds are metal flowers.

Two close-ups of these flowers are shown in these next two photos. These flowers are created with a few cuts along the sides of soda cans, some bending of the metal, and some paint.

This photo shows his studio. The spider and its web create an interesting door (right side in the photo).

There are six permanent collections of paintings that trace historical events and native cultures of the Southwest. Many of his paintings are watercolor representations of American Indian or Mexican peoples.

DeGrazia’s artwork gained international fame when his painting ‘Los NiƱos’ (not shown) was chosen to be printed on a UNICEF greeting card, which went on to sell millions worldwide in 1960.

One exhibit room has the Stations of the Cross done in watercolor. To us, the use of watercolor presented the scenes in such a way that conveyed a sense of salvation.

In contrast, an adjacent exhibit room displayed acrylic paintings of the Stations of the Cross. To us, the colors used in this medium vividly represented the suffering and death of Christ.

After working briefly in the copper mines around Morenci, AZ, in his early 20s, DeGrazia hitched a ride to Tucson with his trumpet and $15 in his pocket. This old trumpet, which had been hanging on this cactus which had grown around the tubing over the years, reminded visitors of this other artistic interest.

This statue in the courtyard was another example of the wide range of the artist's interests.

Even though there are rotating exhibitions that display some of the 15,000 DeGrazia originals housed at the gallery, including oils, watercolors, sketches, serigraphs, lithographs, sculptures, ceramics and jewelry, in 1976, to protest inheritance taxes on works of art, DeGrazia hauled about 100 of his paintings on horseback into the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix and set them ablaze.

We wanted to learn more about Mr. DeGrazia.

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