Ettore DeGrazia : biography
Another time, before the family moved to Italy, DeGrazia had sculpted ‘The Head of Christ’, out of clay he gathered in the desert of Morenci. DeGrazia baked the ‘Head of Christ’ in the same oven his mother used to bake bread. This early work is on display at The Gallery of the Sun.
The family moved back to America in 1925 when the Morenci mines reopened. This is when DeGrazia paints his very first painting: ‘Indian Faces.’ It was a crude, cracked canvas piece, which DeGrazia admitted was not very good. In primary school, his teachers had trouble pronouncing his name, Ettore, so they nicknamed him Ted. He has been called that ever since. Because of the move to Italy, DeGrazia had forgotten how to speak English and as a result, he was put in first grade at the age of sixteen. He had to work his way through elementary school, Junior high, and high school. After graduation in 1932, DeGrazia worked the mines with his family. It was then he realized he did not want to live life as a miner. He said that he couldn’t live without the sun light- and in the early mining days of Morenci there was no open pit mine. The miners went underground before the sun rose, and came out when the sun went down.
"I had a full beard and was twenty-three when I graduated from high school, into a world hit by the depression. I knew I would be underground all of my life if I didn’t succeed at something else."
Art Career: Early Years
DeGrazia remembered well the criticism he received in those early days from people who thought his art was no good. They did not like how DeGrazia followed his own rules in art. On one occasion, DeGrazia was sitting in Rosita’s Mexican restaurant (located next to his gallery) and a man walked in and shouted to him from across the room. He said," Hey! You DeGrazia?!" DeGrazia did not reply, and kept talking with his friend. The man, who obviously did not like DeGrazia, strode over to DeGrazia’s table and interrupted him. He said to DeGrazia, "You’re that guy who thinks you can paint on whatever you want, right?- No rules, you just do whatever you want!" DeGrazia still did not say anything. There was a basket of tortillas on the table, so DeGrazia took one out and began to paint it. When he finished, he took his brush and he autographed the angry man’s clean, white shirt. Before the man stormed out, cursing at DeGrazia, the only thing DeGrazia said to him was, "Now I have painted on everything." The man did not bother to take his original tortilla painting with him, so DeGrazia kept it and it is also on display at the Gallery In the Sun.
In 1946 DeGrazia and Alexandra were divorced. One year later, DeGrazia married Marion Sheret in a small chapel, deep in the jungles of Mexico. With his marriage to Marion, the door was opened to establish his greatest achievement, the Gallery In the Sun.
By the late forties, the city of Tucson began encroaching on DeGrazia’s gallery. He felt cramped with so many people moving to Tucson and he wanted to escape its growth. In 1949, he bought 10 acres of land in the Santa Catalina Foothills, north of Tucson. At this time there was no electricity, water, or services. All supplies that they needed had to be transported from Tucson. They cooked their food in an old wood-burning stove and took showers outside with water from a bucket. Little by little, construction companies begin to bulldoze the big saguaro cacti around him to build homes, businesses, and even a country club. This saddened DeGrazia.
With almost no possessions, DeGrazia caught a ride, and headed for Tucson. With fifteen dollars in his pocket, he enrolled at the University of Arizona in 1933. He played his trumpet at night, and landscaped at the University of Arizona during the day, in order to pay for his classes. He studied music and received his first Bachelors degree in Art Education. His second Bachelors degree was in Fine Arts. DeGrazia would eventually go back to school to earn a Master’s degree in Art Education in 1945.