Cecilia, my lovely mother-in-law, likes to surround herself with bright happy colors and family souvenirs. She lives in a very beautiful place in the South Tucson, surrounded by the desert, cacti and horses. The land, a sweet world with a nostalgic atmosphere, is still filled with traces of the time when the parents and their 5 sons were living together. Inside the house, the walls are covered with photographs of the family members, boys growing, turning into men, weddings, and new children looking like their parents when they were their age.
I was intrigued by two small paintings of Indian girls on a bathroom wall. Wondering about them, I asked what was their story. The painter, Ettore DeGrazia, was a successful local artist who sold paintings, ceramics, and all sort of commercial reproductions. The ones at Cecilia's were done by his son Nick who at one point was copying his father's style.
I decided to research who was Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia. His family was Italian from Calabria, moved to Arizona to work in the mines. He lived and studied in Tucson in the early 1930. DeGrazia met Diego Rivera in Mexico City and ended up doing an intership assisting him on his murals. He was a musician and could pay for his fine art studies performing. Ted was very handsome and married twice.
A lover of the desert, in 1949 DeGrazia bought 10 acres in the Catalina’s foothills, to create what was to become DeGrazia’s Gallery in the Sun, a remote and idilic place.
A text on DeGrazia's Wikipedia page (see below), describing his life in the desert and how he was affected by Tucson's development, somehow personally resonated:
At this time there was no electricity, water, or services. All supplies that they needed had to be transported from Tucson. They cooked their food in an old wood-burning stove and took showers outside with water from a bucket. Little by little, construction companies began to bulldoze the big saguaro cacti around him to build homes, businesses, and even a country club. This saddened DeGrazia.
Looking at the satellite view of the gallery location, I could see the unpleasant constructions built-up all around. Sadly the same thing is still happening, I can see it on Cecilia's land. The beautiful immensity of the desert is slowly filling up with hugliness.
The discovery of DeGrazia and his fascinating era made me feel nostalgic of a time when settling in an untouched landscape didn't seem such an extravagant idea.