While in Tucson, AZ for the weekend, we made a point of visiting Ted DeGrazia’s Gallery in the Sun. DeGrazia is an Arizona icon – an artist that mastered every media he attempted, and who left behind a legacy.
DeGrazia made history in 1976 when he rode into the Superstition Mountains on horseback, carrying with him 100 of his paintings which he burned in protest of IRS tax laws that he deemed were unfair to artists and their heirs. DeGrazia died at age 72 of cancer, in 1982.
DeGrazia was born in a mining camp, he spent time in Apache Junction, but he made his home in Tucson. After a chance meeting with Deigo Rivera, he interned with Rivera and Orozco. After returning to Tucson, no gallery was interested in displaying hi art. So he did what any enterprising artist would do, he built his own gallery.
In 1947, DeGrazia and his wife, Marion Sheret purchased 10 acres in the foothills of Tucson, and built his Gallery in the Sun. The site is actually a complex of adobe buildings built by DeGrazia. I didn’t include any photos of the gallery itself because they could not do justice to the artwork or the atmosphere, all of which are interrelated.
The first building built on the grounds was the Mission in the Sun, in memory fo Padre Kino, a Jesuit priest. The mission is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Next to the mission he built his house which also housed the original gallery. All of the buildings were made of adobe, mixed on site, but the straw and soil were hauled up to the site with his Model T.
The gallery is amazing – the entrance is modeled after the gate to a Yuma territorial prison. Inside the gates, it is reminiscent of the entrance to one of the mines that he worked as a young man. once you are through this formidable passageway, you are in a spacious and airy gallery. All of the galleries are bright with natural light, and in some of the spaces the artificial lights are redundant.
The gallery is a network of rooms, each featuring a series of paintings representing a unique southwestern theme. From the plight of the indigenous people to landscapes, to Padre Kino, to Indian legends – DeGrazia captures events with a respect that grew from his upbringing among the various cultures.
I wish we had had more time to explore the grounds. The Studio in the Sun has a very cool vibe, with the spectacular backdrop of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Even though the gallery is off the beaten track, there were plenty of visitors, many of them relaxing on the grounds. This is definitely a “must” if you are ever in the Tucson area. I have only tapped the first few ounces of the keg; DeGrazia was a very complex man with a story that cannot be told in a few paragraphs. He was an accomplished trumpeter, playing in a big band. He spent some of his childhood in Italy, before returning to Arizona. He worked not only with oils, but with enamel on copper, sculpture and mosaic. And his buildings are works of art in themselves.