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De Grazia

The Man and the Myths

James W. Johnson with Marilyn D. Johnson

Publication Year: 2014

Artist Ted De Grazia (1909–1982) lived life with passion and verve, embracing risk and romance, becoming a legend in Arizona and gaining international acclaim. De Grazia: The Man and the Myths is a biography that reveals the eccentric, colorful man behind the myths. This highly entertaining book by James W. Johnson with Marilyn D. Johnson looks at De Grazia’s life from his early years until his death.
    Born in Arizona Territory to Italian immigrant parents, De Grazia’s
humble childhood as a copper miner’s son influenced his famous persona later. De Grazia often held forth at his gallery in Tucson’s Catalina foothills dressed in a pseudo prospector’s getup of scraggly beard, jeans, flannel shirt, boots, and beat-up cowboy hat. Outrageous stories of womanizing, scores of children, and drinking binges created an eclectic image that fueled stories of mythic proportions, along with global sales of his colorful paintings inspired by the Southwest and Mexico. He made millions through his paintings and the licensing of his art for greeting cards and trinkets. Critics called his work kitsch or commercial, yet thousands of admirers continue to love it.
    Calling De Grazia a complicated man doesn’t begin to explain him. He once described himself as “not saint nor devil, but both.” The first book of its kind, De Grazia: The Man and the Myths tells the story of a life remarkably lived.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-2

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pp. 3-10

Ted De Grazia once described himself as “not saint nor devil, but both.”2 There’s a lot of truth in that. Coming up with the real Ted De Grazia is a biographer’s nightmare. It’s a nightmare of the artist’s creation, since De Grazia protected...

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1: The Miner’s Son

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pp. 11-21

After Ted De Grazia died in 1982, workers clearing out his cluttered home, workshop, and gallery in the Catalina Foothills of Tucson found thousands of dollars in cash secreted in Chivas Regal boxes in a storage room and in envelope boxes tucked under his bed....

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2: To Italy and Back

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pp. 22-26

The trip to Italy made a strong impression on young Ted. The De Grazias were crammed into the ship’s hold for a week with dozens of other passengers. De Grazia never forgot the putrid smells of vomit and bodies that had gone too many days without baths. “Oh, it was...

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3: Getting an Education

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pp. 27-34

At some point during the truck ride to Tucson, the driver asked De Grazia what he was going to study. “Anything,” he replied. “Maybe music, maybe art. Doesn’t make much difference. There are only two things I don’t like, swimming and physical education.” He had gotten out of swimming in high school by diving into the...

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4: The Bisbee Years

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pp. 35-42

Soon after the wedding the newlyweds moved to Bisbee, a booming mining town of twenty thousand people about ten miles from the border with Mexico, where Nick Diamos had made Ted manager of the Lyric Theater at 10 Naco Road, at the very bottom...

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5: Learning from the Masters

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pp. 43-52

While spending the summer of 1940 in Tucson, De Grazia lined up an exhibit of his work called Dust of Mexico at the Arizona Inn, owned by former Congresswoman Isabella Greenway, in Tucson. One buyer turned out to be Raymond Carlson, editor of the...

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6: Back to Tucson

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pp. 53-62

The next year, 1943, De Grazia gave up thoughts of wandering and moved back to Tucson. He and Alexandra bought an older home on North Stone Avenue that had a small cellar with a furnace and two windows. Ted wanted to return to school, so his father-in-law...

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7: A Marriage Ends

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pp. 63-70

At the university, De Grazia pursued his fascination with the relationship between art and music. He had thought the idea original, but he soon discovered that the same concept had been proposed by Aristotle more than 2,300 years before.2 It is also likely that he...

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8: Life after Divorce

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pp. 71-76

De Grazia struggled to make ends meet after the 1946 divorce. He would leave paintings outside his small, rustic Tucson studio overnight with “For Sale” signs, but nobody would even steal them.2 When his children came to visit him at the studio, they ate salad for...

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9: Appreciating the Indians

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pp. 77-85

De Grazia loved to travel over Indian land, whether Navajo, Apache, Taos Pueblo, Hopi, Yaqui, Cocopah, or Papago (now Tohono O’odham). He took off on his first drive around the Navajo Reservation in the late 1930s. The trip exposed him to a new world...

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10: His Fame Grows

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pp. 86-96

De Grazia visited New York for the first time in 1947. He didn’t like it much. In an autobiographical sketch published in 1966, he wrote: “1947—His first trip to New York to look it over—NO GOOD.” That feeling didn’t diminish after several other trips to the...

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11: Coming into His Own

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pp. 97-107

During the early years of Ted and Marion’s marriage, they traveled together throughout northern Mexico and the Indian country of Arizona and New Mexico. His fascination with the desert as well as its people led him to write in a journal that the “desert is...

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12: On a Mission

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pp. 108-120

By the early 1950s, Tucson’s rapid growth so aggravated De Grazia that he wanted to get out of the “crowded” city closing in on him and into the open spaces of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of the city. From that momentous day in Altar Valley when he had first...

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13: On New York City, Booze, and Commercialism

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pp. 121-135

De Grazia traveled to New York City in the 1950s to show off his collection and find out “whether I’m any damn good or not as an artist.” But, he said, “I didn’t come here to stand in line, and I’m not going knocking on doors. I’m just going to find out whether

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14: Building the Gallery

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pp. 136-144

De Grazia’s most extravagant building, the one he considered his best work, was yet to come—the more than 16,000-square-foot Gallery in the Sun, a “40-room complex . . . comprised of three buildings . . . connected by a wall enclosing a large vegetated courtyard...

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15: Honors for the Artist

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pp. 145-151

In 1961, a Tucson Daily Citizen reporter asked De Grazia how he felt about his long road to success. The artist, typically contemptuous, responded, “How I feel about it is more important than the johnny-come-lately opinions of academic specialists and art dilettantes...

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16: On Bullfighting and Ballet

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pp. 152-167

The relentless maligning of his work as “cutesy commercialism” continued to dog De Grazia, though he had long ago stopped worrying about what critics thought, preferring to be labeled an “artist of the people.” Douglas Hale, a historian at Northern Arizona...

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17: Finally, a Retrospective

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pp. 168-179

In the fall of 1971, Frontier Heritage Press published a 191-page biography of De Grazia entitled De Grazia: The Irreverent Angel by William Reed. Reed had won the 1970 Best Western Art Book of the Year award for his biography of cowboy artist Olaf Wieghorst. He...

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18: The Superstitions

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pp. 180-192

De Grazia carried on a more than thirty-year love affair with the Superstition Wilderness Area, making dozens of excursions into the rugged terrain starting in the late 1940s and early ’50s. Those were what he called his “ing” years—prospecting, painting, smoking...

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19: The Love of His Life

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pp. 193-201

Even as biographer William Reed profiled Marion and Ted enjoying their happy home life in the 1970s, their marriage was in poor shape. De Grazia told Reed, for example, that three or four years before the interview, he had been living in a world of his own. “I...

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20: On Death

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pp. 202-209

In 1970, at age sixty-one, De Grazia started pondering his mortality. He later recorded some of his reflections in a phonograph album called His Thoughts and His Philosophy>/em>...Despite these rather melancholy contemplations, De Grazia still...

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pp. 210-218

After De Grazia’s death, letters of condolence poured into the Gallery in the Sun by the hundreds. Now, years later, those letters are nowhere to found. Lance Laber, the DeGrazia Foundation’s executive director, can’t explain why they are missing but doubts that...

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pp. 219-220

A book usually has one author on the cover, two as in this case. But there are dozens of people who have contributed to this end product. Some of their names have been lost out of haste or lack of time, or the author forgot to ask their identities. They are all important...


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pp. 221-246


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pp. 247-254


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pp. 255-262

About the Authors

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p. 263-263

E-ISBN-13: 9780816598946
E-ISBN-10: 0816598940
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816530502
Print-ISBN-10: 0816530505

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 41 b/w photos, 22 color photos
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Arizona -- Biography.
  • Artists -- United States -- Biography.
  • De Grazia, 1909-1982.
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