Following in the Footsteps of Artist Ted DeGrazia


A Love Your Parks Tour Story by Nancy J. Reid and Lisa D. Smith, assigned by Lance Laber, Executive Director of DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun


In an effort to catalog and label for marketing convenience, artists, writers and musicians, are often pigeon-holed and expected to abide by concepts and rules that their creative spirits rally against. Main stream radio dictates not only what a musician should sing, but what the listeners should hear; TV shows copy each other, looking for a formula that advertisers feel will sell their products, and that’s what you get to watch; and galleries determine what is good art and what is not, based on what they feel they can sell.

Ted DeGrazia PaintingEttore “Ted” DeGrazia was one independent and creative spirit, that not only defied the rules by doing everything his own way–but he made money at it. He was well-educated, knew the rules, but decided to paint the way he wished to paint, on whatever surface he chose to paint, with whatever materials he wanted. He experimented tirelessly with different mediums and left a legacy of artwork, music, writings, and a gallery where his defiance can still be felt.

As a young artist, DeGrazia struggled. He supported himself as a musician and landscaper to put himself through the University of Arizona. Even though he educated himself and Arizona Highways published articles about him; and he served as an apprentice to both Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco in Mexico (who sponsored his successful art show at the prestigious Palacio de Bellas Artes); DeGrazia still did not impress the local Tucson art galleries. But, this did not stop him.

Intent on painting his way, DeGrazia gathered his Indian friends and built the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun. His gallery is a great reflection of his independent spirit and personality.  Defying the look and feel of most other galleries, it has something of interest everywhere you look. The adobe walls, the cholla cactus and rock floors, cases of jewelry, ceramics, room after room of paintings, the iron doors at the front, the Mission in the Sun, the DeGrazia home, the Little Gallery used for displaying other artists’ work–are all set on ten acres of gardens in the sunny Arizona landscape DeGrazia loved the most.

“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

DeGrazia seemed to have had an engaging personality that the media and celebrities liked. His media presence most likely led to his “Los Ninos” oil painting being chosen by UNICEF in 1960. It was reproduced as a holiday card that sold millions worldwide. From that point on, his gallery thrived with thousands of people visiting and buying his work. He was an artist for the people.

Ted’s next show of independence was a protest against the inheritance taxes on works of art. He realized that upon his passing, his family would be subject to unrealistic taxes they could not pay. His solution, now part of his legend, was to haul 100 paintings on horseback, into the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix and set them on fire. He was also smart enough to establish the DeGrazia Foundation to preserve his art and his home for future generations.

A tour through the gallery is like living a day in the life of DeGrazia, and one can’t help but admire this stoic man and his “doing-it-my-way” spirit. There are many stories about DeGrazia, most of them amusing. We have walked through his gallery several times over the years. Each time, there is something new to see and you notice another detail you didn’t see before. It’s like visiting an old friend’s home. DeGrazia’s spirit pulls you in and brings you back for more.

DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun is listed in the Register of National Historic Places. More at

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