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Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia (June 14, 1909 – September 17, 1982) was an American impressionist, western-pop painter, sculptor, composer, actor, director, designer, architect, jeweler, and lithographer. Described as "the world's most reproduced artist", DeGrazia is known for his colorful images of Native American children of the American Southwest and other Western scenes. What he is not, normally, known for are special exhibitions like the Papago Legends, Padre Kino, Cabeza de Vaca, detailed and ornate crowns and jewelry, stylish blouses and skirts, corny Western movies, genius master's thesis theories, whimsical ceramics and metal work, Spanish and jazz influenced music, and the list continues for this prolific artist.
Born to Italian immigrants, Ted's family migrated from San Pietro, in Amantea, Calabria (Southern Italy). His parents, Dominic and Lucia DeGrazia, were strong people who worked very hard for their family of seven children. His father, and uncles, were copper miners in Morenci, Arizona Territory, when Ted was born in 1909- before Arizona became a state in 1912.
DeGrazia's graduation from Morenci High School was delayed to the age of 23 by a five-year family move to Italy beginning in 1920. This move was a result of the Morenci mines closing that same year. The family was devastated. They were sent away by the mining officials. Ted's father took his family to the only home they had- Italy. While there, Ted became fascinated with cathedral art and with the surrounding monasteries. He also, as usual, got himself into trouble: "One time in the cathedral, I was pumping the organ it was high mass and, somehow or other, in the middle of the mass I quit pumping. There was no music. There were all those quivering, out-of-tune, voices. Two monks came, picked me up by the ears (and) led me down some spiral stairs- and out I went."
Another time, before the family moved to Italy, DeGrazia had sculpted 'The Head of Christ', out of clay. He had no kiln to fire his sculpture in. All he had was his mother's oven, and she just happened to be baking their bread for the day. When her back was turned, he threw it in, and eventually, she caught and scolded him for throwing dirt into her oven. Today, in DeGrazia's Gallery of the Sun, this piece of art is still on display.
The family moved back to America in 1925 when the Morenci mines reopened. This is when Ted painted 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 re-named 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- this only took Ted seven years to accomplish. After graduation, Ted worked the mines with his family. It was then he realized he did not want to live a life as a miner. He said that he couldn't live with out the sun light- and in those days, Morenci did not have an 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."
With almost no possessions, DeGrazia caught a ride headed for Tucson. For fifteen dollars, he enrolled at the University. He played his trumpet at night, and dug ditches in the day, to pay for school. He studied music first and received his first Bachelors in Art Education. His second Bachelors was in Fine Arts. Ted would eventually go back to school to earn a Master's degree in the 1940's.
In 1936, Ted met Alexandra Diamos, and that same year, they married. Her father was a business man who owned many of the largest movie picture theaters in Southern Arizona. One of the theaters was the Lyric theater, located in Bisbee. Alexandra and Ted moved to Bisbee. Ted worked his father-in-law's theater. The couple had three children Lucia Anite, Nicholas Domenic , and Kathleen Louise.
Although Ted was making a living, he was not happy with this work. Any money he could save went towards art supplies. Any extra time he had went to his art. He was searching, trying to find his own style. In 1941 Arizona Highways Magazine began to publish DeGrazia's images. He met many other famous, and soon-to-be famous, artists. And in 1942 he studied under Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, assisting with murals at the Palacio Nacional and the Hospital de Jesus. The two artists sponsored an exhibit of his paintings at Palacio de Bellas Artes and the young artist was featured in Mexico City's Hoy Magazine. This was Ted DeGrazia's first big exhibition.
He returned to the University of Arizona, studying under Katherine Kitt. His Master's Thesis was a sixty paged paper titled: "Art and Its Relation to Music In Music Education." "The purpose of this thesis is to establish an analogy between music and abstract painting, showing the relationship between the elements of music and painting by setting forth a method whereby music can better be understood and appreciated by the projection of its moods and feelings into another dimension."
He built the 'Color Machine.' This machine would measure the different levels of tone and pitch when music was being played. With each level, DeGrazia assigned specific emotions, shapes, and colors. He also created the 'Color Music Pattern Test.' The test was a single sheet of paper that had many rows of empty squares. He gave the test to over 350 University of Arizona students. He sat each student down and had them listen to music he would play. Music like, Stravinsky's Nightingale, and Beethoven's Symphony #8. He would stop the music in intervals and ask each student 'what colors and shapes did they see?' In the empty squares, they would draw what they saw.
In the archives, at the DeGrazia Foundation, there are oral histories of some of the students who were given the Color Music Pattern Test. They all said the same thing. At first, they could not understand how they were to be able to see shapes and colors. But the more DeGrazia played the symphonies, the more the shapes and colors took form. They could literately 'see the music.' DeGrazia did a series of abstract paintings based from the results of these psychological and experimental tests. From these results, he was able to 'paint' these symphonies.
In 1944, DeGrazia built his first gallery from adobe on the corner of Prince and Campbell Road in Tucson, Arizona. In 1951, he started work on what would become the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Historic District with the building of the Mission in the Sun and his home near the corner of Swan and Skyline roads. The DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun was built in 1965. Artists and friends who spent time at the new gallery included Thomas Hart Benton, Olaf Wieghorst, Jack Van Ryder, Pete Martinez and Ross Santee. In 2006, the 10-acre (40,000 m2) property, now a museum of DeGrazia's work, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
DeGrazia's work first appeared in Arizona Highways magazine in 1941. In 1960, DeGrazia received a commission to produce cover art for UNICEF greeting cards. His designs have appeared on lithographs, collector plates, greeting cards, and in a series of Goebel figurines made by the same company that is famous for its Hummel figurines.
In 1976, Degrazia engaged in a protest against inheritance taxes based on assessed market values of his work. The artist claimed the U.S. Internal Revenue Service rulings made him "a millionaire on paper and my heirs will have to pay taxes for which there is no money." In his well-publicized protest, Degrazia rode horseback into the Superstition Mountains and burned 100 of his paintings.