THE DESERT MODERNIST CERAMICS OF TED & MARION DEGRAZIA

Experience the DeGrazias’ southwestern-modern ceramics: The DeGrazia Foundation opens the vaults of a rarely seen collection.  

Modernist Ceramics, a new show at DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun provides a rare chance to view a comprehensive collection of the ceramic work of Ted and Marion DeGrazia produced in the 1950s and 1960s. Iconic stoneware, like Ted DeGrazia’s saguaro pleat bowls and pitchers, will be on display alongside equally compelling but lesser-known work, including Ted’s hand-illustrated plates and Marion’s sculptures of the Madonna.

The opening reception for Modernist Ceramics on Friday, September 2nd from 5-7pm is free and open to the public. There will be light refreshments and live lounge music featuring the keyboard and vocal stylings of Paul Jenkins. If you can’t make it then, don’t fret: the show will be on display during regular museum hours through January 25, 2017.

Used with permission from the DeGrazia Foundation

Used with permission from the DeGrazia Foundation

Jim Jenkins, collections manager of the DeGrazia Foundation, explained that one of the greatest challenges in curating this show has been to equally showcase Ted and Marion’s mid-century work without over representing the more abundant and commercially viable pieces.  

“Before he became famous, a focus on the tourist trade was key to Ted and Marion's success,” Jenkins said. “The unique turquoise and brown slip-cast tableware and cactus forms they produced were functional, hand-made, original DeGrazias that were reasonably priced and would provide tourists with an evocative reminder of their visit.”

The DeGrazias produced and sold their art at their adobe residences designed by Ted, first on Prince and Campbell and later at The Gallery in the Sun in the foothills. The gallery immersed tourists in Ted DeGrazia’s whimsical southwestern universe and it became a huge success.

Used with permission from the DeGrazia Foundation

Used with permission from the DeGrazia Foundation

Ted DeGrazia’s ceramics are plentiful and, like his paintings, explore a wide variety of form, color, and motif.  In addition to the beloved functional ware, there are quirky candelabras, hand-painted plates with petroglyph and abstract themes, and more. While the subject and methods vary, they all radiate something distinctly DeGrazia, mixing distressed clay bodies with bright paints and glazes in a way that’s at once ancient and fresh.

Marion DeGrazia’s sculptures, in contrast, are cohesive distillations of natural forms. She studied sculpture at Columbia University in New York City and her work was skilled and refined while maintaining a spontaneous and organic feel. She often incorporated natural objects like stones and driftwood, and left the pieces unglazed.

“Marion was a real earth mother”, said Jenkins, and her pieces reflect a connection to creation and nature with themes of the Madonna, flowers, and animals.

“While Ted DeGrazia's style changed radically over the course of his career and showed many influences, Marion's unique personal style remained relatively consistent,” Jenkins explained. “Her use of blank faces in her figurative work had a clear influence on Ted, as he never employed the technique before they met in 1946.”

Marion assisted in Ted’s ceramics production. The pieces she finished can be discerned by the signatures. Her personal work was signed “M. DeGrazia,” but she signed work for her husband as he did, simply “DeGrazia.” It’s easy to tell their marks apart; hers is more studied and controlled while his is a wild and angular scribble.

Marion managed the gallery, and her support enabled Ted’s many adventures for inspiration and marketing. They created The Gallery in the Sun together and the grounds display her artistic contributions. Her largest sculpture, a Madonna hacked out of an adobe wall, remains a brightly-hued resident of the courtyard to this day.

Ted and Marion used many of the pieces in the show in daily life. They show signs of regular use, and some have stories attached to them. An impressively large amphora, for instance, was used to hold dog bones. Other pieces fell victim to the dogs over the years. Jenkins and his team have pieced some of these back together and they will be on display for the first time.

The show is a great compliment to Tucson Modernism Week, a celebration of mid-century design and architecture in Tucson, which runs from September 30 through October 8 this year. This collection of ceramics represents the specific rustic modern aesthetic of the DeGrazias, which has become intertwined with Tucson’s distinct, dusty but vibrant, desert character.

This post and its original content first appeared on Territory Magazine.