Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia
American (1909 – 1982)
Ettore (Ted) DeGrazia was Born in 1909 in the eastern Arizona Territory mining camp of Morenci where his father, an Italian immigrant, worked in the copper mine, Ettore DeGrazia was given the nickname “Ted” by one of his early school teachers. He showed artistic talent even as a child, and one of his first sculptures, “Head of Christ,” was baked in his mother’s oven. From 1920-1924 the family traveled in Italy, which interruption of Ted’s formal education resulted in his delayed graduation from Morenci High School at the age of 23. Continuing on to the University of Arizona in Tucson, he earned degrees in art and music. In 1941, several of his paintings were reproduced in Arizona Highways magazine, which continued to publish his art throughout his lifetime.
After studying with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco in Mexico City (who sponsored a solo exhibition of his artwork at the prestigious Palacio de Bellas Artes in 1942), DeGrazia returned to Tucson and built his first adobe studio in 1944. As the city expanded around them, he and his wife Marion bought ten acres in the Tucson Foothills and built both their home and the Mission in the Sun in 1951, followed by the Gallery in the Sun in 1965, where many famous artists, including Thomas Hart Benton, frequently visited.
Perhaps best known for his impressionistic pastel images of Native American children of the American Southwest and other Western scenes, DeGrazia gained international fame in 1960 when his painting “Los Niños” (the children) was chosen as a UNICEF greeting card that sold millions worldwide. The value of his artwork soared. This, however, had a personal down side, and in 1976, DeGrazia gained notoriety as a tax protester. Railing against inheritance taxes that based assessed value of works of art on their market value, DeGrazia accused the IRS of making him a millionaire on paper and thereby subjecting his heirs to huge estate taxes that they would be unable to pay. In his well-publicized tax protest, DeGrazia rode into the Superstition Mountains on horseback, taking 100 of his paintings with him which he proceeded to set ablaze! This infamous event was reported in both The Wall Street Journal and People magazine, becoming part of the DeGrazia legend before his death in 1982. Today DeGrazia’s Gallery in the Sun, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a museum of his work and a must-see Tucson attraction.