While we were in Tucson in December, we visited the studio and gallery of Ted deGrazia, an artist I have always known about, because when my grandmother lived in Tucson, she met Mrs. deGrazia and they became friends. She of course introduced my grandmother to her husband, and since then, his whimsical paintings of children and Southwest scenes have become familiar to my family.
The day we visited deGrazia’s Gallery in the Sun was a good one, because the weather outside was cold, rainy and windy, no fun for outside activities. We had plenty of time to browse – and shop!
The following are pictures I took in the gallery and in the chapel behind it where he painted murals.
The artist explains (quoted on the central panel): “A wall out of mud is beautiful and satisfying, but a wall of mud and straw is a union of materials that are in complete harmony and produce an aesthetic feeling, long to be remembered. To me this is the great Southwest. The mud wall is masculine – physically strong and durable. The straw is feminine – delicate as a thread. Its color is sun and gold. Some of the walls in my new Gallery in the Sun are like this.
“On other gallery walls I use plaster with rough gravel – heavy on the cement and not much lime. This produces a severe texture. Then, while the plaster is still wet, I paint it with at least three colors, sometimes as many as six. Colors are used to achieve the counterpart of the structure, to soften the walls. The result is that they come alive. They sing and exude beauty.”
About the floors, deGrazia explains, “On some of the Gallery floors, I use mud; on others, jumping cholla cactus. The cholla, cut about four inches long …is sanded and sealed with wax. The tops of some of the cholla I dye in color. Then I bed them in cement. The finished floor produces a feeling of walking in a strange magic place. You see it, you feel it in your feet – texture on your toes, so to speak….”
You notice different colors in the plaster walls throughout the gallery, which enhance the paintings in that room.
The following quoted from a sign entitled Papago Indian Legends.
“DeGrazia created this collection of Papago legends in 1975. During the 1980s, the Papago name was officially changed to Tohono O’odham, which means Desert People in the O’odham language.
“DeGrazia chose four legends to depict the Tohono O’odham tradition of storytelling: Creation of the World, the Monster of Quitovac, the Eagle-Man and Ho’ok.
“The Eagle-man was a handsome man until he accepted a drink offered by a maiden that turned him into a clumsy eagle. He flew to the highest mountain peak where he lived in a cave, then captured a beautiful Papago woman and made her his wife. She gave birth to his baby, half human and half eagle, and she hated them because they ate her people. Eetoi used his magic to kill them and rescue her.
“Ho’ok was a wicked witch with talons of an eagle and a big appetite for children. The Indians summoned Eetoi, who drank and danced with the witch until she slept and was carried to her cave, which was sealed and lit on fire. She tried to escape but Eetoi put his huge foot on a boulder at the mouth of the cave, keeping Ho’ok inside until she burned up.
“The Creation of the World started when Earthmaker and Yellow Buzzard were floating in space, and Earthmaker scraped dirt from his chest to make the earth and everything on it. He made two supernatural beings he called Eetoi and Coyote. Together they made people out of clay and baked them. The first were burnt black, so the creators threw them to the other side of the earth. The second batch was too pale, so they threw them across the sea. The third batch was nice and brown, creating the Papago.
“The Monster of Quitovac lived in a lake, but when he awoke, he ate so many Papagos that the remaining ones moved to the dry desert to get away from him. Armed with a knife, Eetoi challenged the monster, who swallowed him, but Eetoi found the monster’s heart and severed it with his knife.”
The style of the two paintings below is different than DeGrazia’s usual style. The first one I think is called “The Gathering.”
Yaqui Easter Ceremony – A sign says the following:
“DeGrazia created this collection in 1967 after observing the ceremonies with his Yaqui friends. ‘For forty days and forty nights it goes on and on,’ he explained. ‘It is their big celebration of the year. Preparations go on for a long time. All the trappings for the costumes are made. Masks are carved, paper flowers made, wood is gathered, food prepared. Then on Ash Wednesday there is the beginning. Like everything else, it starts with a small crowd.
“‘Friday after Friday until Easter it grows bigger and bigger until they almost go into ecstasy, like a big explosion. It is not consistent. It is not entirely Catholic or pagan. But it is sacred. There is an excitement attuned to both.’
“DeGrazia concluded that the Yaquis adapted the story of Jesus told by the early missionaries and ‘stylized it to fit their personality, always full of variations. I never ask because it’s none of my business. I just watch.’
“On Saturday night preceding Palm Sunday, an all night fiesta is held with processions, religious services, dancing and the beloved Deer Dancer ceremony. The pascola storytellers jest with the crowd and pursue the Deer Dancer, who portrays a deer in the forest eluding his captors. The ceremony inspired DeGrazia to create the seven-foot bronze statue of the Deer Dancer in the gallery’s cactus courtyard.
“The forty paintings in this collection are reproduced in full color in the book DeGrazia Paints the Yaqui Easter with brief descriptions of each event written by the artist.”
The Cactus Courtyard
In the following painting of men dead and dying on the beach in San Diego Bay, DeGrazia used colors which would depict the horror of that day.
Leaving the gallery, we took the path to the Chapel.
We exited the Gallery in the Sun and Chapel through the swinging door at right.