Tucson Celebrates Ted deGrazia’s Birthday: Gallery in the Sun Highlights Work of Arizona Native Artist

Born in an Arizona territory mining camp to Italian immigrants, Ted deGrazia was influenced by the natural beauty of the desert and the reverent lifestyle of the Native Americans of the region. While he worked as a child and young man in the camps, eventually prospecting the gold for fillings in his own teeth, he became a prolific artist of many mediums, including oil, pencil and ceramics.

By the 1950s and 60s, as he became a commercial success with originals such as “Los Niños”, the 1957 oil that was reproduced into a best-selling UNICEF card in 1960, deGrazia also became frustrated with federal taxes on his income. He received international media coverage in 1976 for burning nearly 100 of his paintings, estimated at $1 million, in protest of inheritance taxes.

Was deGrazia’s Work Tacky?

Despite his international recognition and monetary success, the people of Tucson often considered him a guy who sold “tacky art” to tourists. Gallery curator Lance Laber tells the story of a set of six coffee mugs that recently sold at a Tucson flea market for $40. The buyer was one of the few locals to appreciate distinct flare in the turquoise ceramic pieces as deGrazia’s work.

The buyer brought them to the Gallery in the Sun, where they are now on display and valued at more than $2,000.

Also featured are examples of DeGrazia’s reverent depictions of Native American culture, such as the 1962 oil “Hoop Dancer”. Lesser known artwork from the Gallery’s vault, most on public exhibition for the first time, includes the undated “New York”, an impressionistic cityscape with a humble street-sweeper in the foreground.

Celebration of deGrazia’s 100th Birthday

In addition to the retrospective exhibition, the gallery will also celebrate DeGrazia Centennial Weekend June 13 & 14, the date of DeGrazia’s birth-Flay Day-in the Morenci mining camp of Territorial Arizona in 1909.

A chronological exhibit of deGrazia’s work at the Tucson Museum of Art will include work from his one-man show at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in 1942 after he interned with mural masters Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. It also showcases his innovative experiments with ceramics in the 1950s, the height of his commercial success in the 1960s and 1970s, and his later interest in print-making techniques in the early 1980s.

Birthday celebration or not, there’s always something to see at the Gallery in the Sun, which attracts thousands of visitors a year and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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