Late artist’s oasis casts a spell in Tucson

I’ve been to Tucson, Arizona, a few times, but only on my most recent trip, last June with Wessel, did the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun catch my attention. I saw a listing for it in the city’s tourism magazine, and it seemed interesting. But nothing prepared us for such a mystical place that reflects its desert setting. Do not miss it! 

Mission in the Sun chapelWhen artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia and his sculptor wife, Marion, moved out of downtown Tucson and into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the 1950s, only a small dirt road marked the way. Half a century later, his 10-acre retreat, home to a public gallery and chapel, sits just off busy Swan Road, a thoroughfare into the foothills and now a tony address.

DeGrazia (1909-82) was a painter and graphic artist who specialized in Southwestern and Native American life. He was most known for his illustration “Los Niños” (The Children), which graced a 1960 UNICEF Christmas card.

Lady of Guadalupe in Mission in the Sun chapelThe 13-room DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun featuring his original art and the tiny Mission in the Sun chapel are magical places, where admirers of Southwest art and architecture can go for a sensory overload of colors, textures, and religious iconography. The complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 2006.

The artist and his Native American friends created the buildings literally from the ground up, using mud to shape adobe bricks. The colorful dry-brush painted walls and the floors of cholla cactus slices embedded in concrete could stand up to any of today’s decorative treatments.

The large gift shop sells some original lithographs and serigraphs and ceramics made from DeGrazia’s molds. Merchandise can also be purchased at the foundation’s website.

DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, 6300 North Swan Road, Tucson, 520- 299-9191, 800-545-2185, degrazia.org. Free admission. Daily 10 am.- 4 p.m. except holidays. Chapel open daily sunrise to sunset.

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