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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


New exhibits at the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum

Celeste Lizarraga
Ian, the facility manager at DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, stands inside an exhibit on Sept. 3. As a member of the maintenance team, he calls himself “Dirt Boy.”

DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun has been a Tucson landmark since Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia established it in the early 1950s. It was made a historic district in 2006 by the National Historic Registry. Since then, the gallery has stood tall as both a tourist attraction and art gallery. Visitors can literally walk through DeGrazia’s house and view how he lived.

Jim Jenkins has worked for the gallery for 17 and a half years and is the current curator of the gallery. He spoke about putting different pieces together to create an exhibition. Jenkins always has a hard time picking as the archives have over 15,000 pieces of media DeGrazia created up until his death.

“My boss always says, ‘Don’t put everything out! If we do another show, you can always add more stuff later!’ […] I always feel bad because I sometimes pick too many pieces,” Jenkins said.

Many pieces in DeGrazia’s collection are mixed media. Majority are paintings, but DeGrazia always used different techniques and he had different eras because of it. He taught himself how to create jewelry, lithographs and several more techniques by reading books. 

Artwork from “Scenes from the Revolution” and “DeGrazia in Black and White” exhibits is displayed at DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun. The museum is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Jenkins described one of the two current rotating exhibitions, “Scenes from the Revolution.” This was a series of paintings done from 1937 to 1973 depicting specific scenes from the Mexican Revolution.

“It was a series DeGrazia started in his mid-career and continued for about 20 years or so. It depicts the Northern Revolutionary forces of Pancho Villa. The Villistas included the men, women and children of the working class that were fighting with Revolutionary soldiers,” Jenkins said. “He’s showing the strength and resilience of the Native people who took their country back.”

The paintings were also before DeGrazia found his signature style of the little cartoon children and people. The paintings were more realistic than cartoonish and have a bit of a dark tone to them through the portrayal of the revolution.

DeGrazia himself was a self-promoter as well and supported different causes. DeGrazia blew up in popularity in the 1960s when he painted a card for UNICEF to use. Jenkins spoke about what possibly inspired this rotating series of paintings as well as what DeGrazia saw.

“There must have been stories and fables of Pancho Villa when he was a kid growing up because it was happening. Now he was in Morenci on the border, but it was happening nearby […]. It’s an interesting thing that came up after working for a few years. He started doing the revolutionary paintings after he’d been a worker himself for a while,” Jenkins said. “I think it was mainly the spirit and the history; he was always championing the poor and the working class, and that was just a revolution where the government, hacienda owners versus everyone else.” 

The paintings range from victory to the hardships of defeat when fighting against the government. DeGrazia was painting a story of the Villistas forces as a way to keep history alive.

Jenkins went on to describe the second current exhibition, “DeGrazia in Black and White.” These were some of the few paintings DeGrazia ever did that didn’t have color, which makes them quite rare. They were created between 1940 and 1972.

“It was a series of paintings he did without any color in them, with one exception. They’re all black and white paintings, but they’re kind of personal. He has portraits of his cats and a number of different subjects, including landscapes, street scenes and about a half dozen action paintings showing figures in motion,” Jenkins said.

Unlike most of DeGrazia’s paintings, where most have a set theme or subject, the black and white paintings have various different themes and subjects. There’s also only a select few since DeGrazia preferred color over black and white.

Ian, the facility manager at DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, stands inside an exhibit on Sept. 3. As a member of the maintenance team, he calls himself “Dirt Boy.”

Jenkins usually tries to arrange shows in a way where the display makes sense. In his workspace, he uses a doll house that has the layout of the gallery to find the right positions for the items in the rotating exhibitions. He finds out what works and what doesn’t that way.

“In the black and white show, there were weird pairs of paintings that kind of had to be balanced with each other. That one, I was doing more with size, shape and groupings as opposed to chronologically. I put the landscapes in one area, I put the action paintings in one area and that’s how the arrangement was final. We’re not doing a big huge show with eighty or one hundred pieces in them,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins particularly liked the Downtown Bisbee scenes that DeGrazia painted. According to Jenkins, DeGrazia used to be a manager at a cinema in Bisbee and often walked home at night. Jenkins implied that the scene in black and white is inspired by DeGrazia’s many journeys home after a long night shift. Some of the buildings in the paintings are still standing in Bisbee today!

The biggest reward of all to Jenkins is being able to show paintings of DeGrazia’s that haven’t been seen in public for years. While there are permanent displays, the temporary ones allow visitors to appreciate DeGrazia’s art even more, especially mixed media shows.

“A lot of the black and white paintings have never been on display. It’s been almost 20 years since the Mexican Revolution pieces have been on display. The fact that they’re out of the vault and people get a chance to see them. They’re both great exhibits with great paintings in them that would otherwise be sitting in the racks in the vault,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins is in the works of another exhibition which will feature some of DeGrazia’s rodeo paintings for January. He is hopefully putting together another exhibition featuring busts of DeGrazia as well.

Both rotating exhibitions are on display from now until Jan. 24, 2024. DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum is located at 6300 N. Swan Rd. and is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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