Saturday, March 23, 2019

Ted DeGrazia...Gallery in the Sun

Tucson Lazydays KOA
Tucson, AZ
March 15, 2019

Born of Italian immigrants, Ettore DeGrazia (1909-1982) grew up in a mining camp in Territorial Arizona.  His early childhood experiences in the ethnically diverse community evolved into a lifelong appreciation of native cultures in the Sonoran Desert and a passion to create art depicting their lives and traditions.

In the early 1950s DeGrazia purchased a 10-acre plot in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. 

One of the first buildings DeGrazia designed and built on this property he named Mission in the Sun.  
Adobe bricks were made on site with water DeGrazia hauled up in his Model A.

DeGrazia was inspired by the life and times of Padre Kino (who arrived to Arizona in1687 and traveled on horseback to map out the region).  

Padre Kino (who brought a simple cross to introduce Christianity without destroying the native cultures),  built 24 missions in 24 years with the help of Native Americans.  DeGrazia traveled to every Kino mission as he studied the life of the Padre.  

Designed with rock floors, interior murals, and open air roof, the Mission in the Sun was dedicated to Padre Kino. DeGrazia was quoted to have said "... you can't close up God in a stuffy room".

The Mission in the Sun is not open to the public now as it is undergoing some renovations.

What turned out to be a small construction project in the early 1950s developed into a 10-acre National Historic District.  This is actually the second gallery on the property.  As his fame, finances and collections grew, a bigger gallery was needed.        

"The gallery was designed by me.  I wanted to have the feeling of the Southwest.  I wanted to build it so that my paintings would feel good inside." Ettore "Ted" Degrazia  

The iron gates are a replica of the Yuma Territorial Prison gate.  

The entrance resembles a mine shaft reminding him of his youth.   

A small gift shop is the first stop.  There you pay an $8 fee per person and receive a map and brochure.  The rest of the gallery is a self guided tour.  

DeGrazia's studio

There are six permanent collections of paintings in the gallery and rotating collections.  Rotating exhibitions showcase treasures form the vault.  "The Way of the Cross" exhibit is an annual showing every year at Easter through May and "Desert Blooms" is on exhibit now through August. Including the rotating exhibit only some of DeGrazia's 15,000 originals are housed in the gallery including oils, watercolors, sketches, lithographs, sculptures, and ceramics. 
One of my favorite paintings from the Padre Kino permanent collection...Kino's Indian Wedding
A permanent collection of 40 paintings done in 1967 that depict the Yaqui Easter...their biggest celebration of the year.

A permanent collection created in 1975 depicting Papago (the name officially changed to Tohono O'odham in the 1980s) Indian legends.  One of the legends (there were 4) is Ho'ok.  Ho'ok was a wicked witch with talons of an eagle and a large appetite for children. 
A few pictures from the rotating collection "The Way of the Cross"
Watercolors from the 1950s..."colorful" and "playful" paintings of cactus flowers and desert critters...part of the rotating collection.

There is a great video of DeGrazia...not to be missed.  It shows him attending festivals, talking with children, going to bullfights, painting, building the mission and gallery, and he explains his vision.    

There is a small courtyard just outside the gift shop.

DeGrazia was an accomplished trumpeter.  In 1945 he completed a Masters of Arts in Music.  His thesis "Art and Its Relation to Music" explored the connection between music and visuals.  His music plays in the gift shop.  

The Deer important part of the Yaqui Easter ceremony  inspired DeGrazia to create the seven-foot statue of the Deer Dancer in the gallery's courtyard.

Well, I could go on and was such a beautiful place to visit.  Even though Joe and I took our time and read about and enjoyed and discussed the paintings, we both agreed we probably missed a lot...there is so much to take in...and a return visit someday would be just as enjoyable.

I'll close for now with just a few more favorite pictures.  Until next time, enjoy and...

Little Indian with Olla lithograph...hand printed in 1980.  Also, notice how DeGrazia used hay in the wall mud for texture.

The bell on top of Mission in the Sun

Love the colors and textures in the photo.  The walk is made with cholla cacti cut in discs...amazing!

Joe's favorite from the Padre Kino collection.


"It's not how much paint from the tube I put on the canvas, or even how much paint I leave out. I work for the feeling of a piece." DeGrazia


  1. Had not heard of DeGrazia nad his art. Thanks for sharing a great stop that I'd like to visit.

    1. It’s beautiful Jeff....well worth the time to visit!

  2. This looks like such an interesting place. I love The Mission in the Sun. Such a neat design. I've never heard of DeGrazia either until you posted fb photos. I love how he doesn't add faces except for one or two of the children.

    1. You never know when a place like Gallery in the Sun will be a hit or a miss when you make plans to go. This was definitely a hit and we hope to return someday. The colors, the textures, his style are so the Southwest which Joe and I are so in love with so many years ago. In the video DeGrazia made a comment about his paintings...they are always complete, but not finished. Painting in some faces and not painting in some faces do make the pieces complete!

  3. What a beautiful collection of artwork in a gorgeous setting! I, too, had not heard of him, but what a find! I can see how you could spend hours here and not see everything - everywhere you look is something thought provoking and colorful and interesting! I especially love the thought he put into the building itself (the cholla walkway photo is a definite standout!) Thanks for introducing this place. All of your photos are wonderful and make me want to visit the next time we're in the neighborhood.

    1. Thank you Laura! I guess it shows how enamored we were with Gallery in the Sun and with DeGrazia’s life. He truly loved the Southwest...a place Joe and I have grown to truly love as well!

  4. What an interesting place to visit thanks for the tour.

  5. Everything about this is beautiful and inspiring - I must go see it while we're in town :-)

  6. Not been here, thanks for showing it Gay. I think the building was gutted by fire in 2017. Good to see that they have rebuilt.

    1. The mission did have a fire with considerable damage ML. The gallery was not damaged…

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