Ross Ward said he built Tinker Town while other people were watching TV. Yesterday I saw the results of another man’s life work and I’m pretty sure he didn’t watch any TV either.
That’s the DeGrazia Mission in the Sun in northern Tucson. Built by an artist named Ted Degrazia in honor of the Virgin Guadalupe
With an open roof to let the prayers of the people find their way to God.
Ted DeGrazia lived in Arizona during the 20th century (1909-1982), trained at the University of Arizona, worked with painters like Diego Rivera and became internationally famous when UNICEF reproduced one of his paintings on their cards. His work pervades the Southwest and I never cared for his style, thinking it was all these big eyed kids that look like a Southwest version of Precious Moments.
But several years ago a friend of mine got married in this chapel and I remembered it being beautiful so I wanted to revisit it. I didn’t know about the Gallery of the Sun next door.
I didn’t know he did work like this:
Or that he designed and built this gallery, the chapel, and several houses with his hands and hand tools, framing it with an axe and a hammer and applying adobe by hand. I didn’t realize that he filled the gallery with 15,000 original pieces of artwork.
That’s just a fraction of his actual work since he sold many of his paintings and stacked a 100 others on the back of a mule and dragged them into the mountains and set them on fire in 1976 in protest of tax laws. How can one man get so much done?
I loved this recreation of his studio:
And the way each portion of the gallery flows into the next, taking you on a journey of his artistic process.
In addition to everything else (he was also a musician and published his own music, you know, in his spare time…) he built a little gallery for his friends on his land and now a group of his artist contemporaries take turns using the studio and selling their work to visiting DeGrazia fans. El Cruz Armendariz is the guest artist of the week and he sang me a song and told me stories about working with DeGrazia and his close relationship with the Native Americans in the area.
Even though I’m not a fan of DeGrazia’s most popular work, I think this gallery is the perfect representation of Southwestern art and anyone who visits Tucson should make a trip north and check it out.
And speaking of things I never knew existed, how about this Wishing Shrine called El Tiradito in South Tucson’s Barrio Viejo?
El Tiradito means Castaway, Fallen One or Outcast and this sacred spot was dedicated to sinners way back in the 19th century.
The residents of Barrio Viejo fought to keep the city from tearing down the shrine in 1971 and as a result, some historic buildings in this area were saved and can still be seen, like this little nearby museum dedicated to the area.
Many stories about the origins of El Tiradito float around but each story has a common thread of murder and betrayal, some with romantic Romeo and Juliet overtones and some violent and bloody, more like Macbeth.
People visit El Tiradito to light candles and pray for the wayward sinners they know or to make wishes.
Legend has it that if you light a candle and make a wish and the candle stays lit all night, your wish will come true. Here’s mine:
I haven’t yet gone back to check and see if it’s still lit. I think I’d rather not know.
After an afternoon spent wandering through historic Tucson and soaking up Southwest flavor, I showed up early for my Bikram class, pretty excited to be there. Did it go well? No. Do I know why? No. Does that lead to my Bikram thoughts of the day? Yes.
Bikram lesson of the day: The Practice is a practice.
My yogi friend Joe says “we work with the bodies we have today.” And my body that day was not having it. Class was SO HARD. Jules and I had talked about how Bikram can push you around, press you to the furthest reaches of your ability, break things open inside you and make you cry. I’ve never had that experience with any other kind of yoga. Is it the heat? The sameness of the classes? The extreme body bends one way and then the other? I don’t know.
I do know that it’s the first physical activity I’ve done where I’ve gotten benefits right from the very beginning. Bikram says no one is too old or too sick or too broken to do Bikram yoga. Do what you can. Stay in the room. Do a little more tomorrow. Or, in my case, do a lot less than you did yesterday. I had less of everything except my will. My will was stronger and I had so much less to work with that in some postures all I had was effort. I just plain couldn’t do them. Couldn’t keep my balance, couldn’t get off the floor, couldn’t do it. And it took all my will just to try.
And then I cried during the final savasana. Why? Opening up, letting go, trying. All these things are hard and cause pain and sometimes tears. Just is what it is. I know the room was hot and I hadn’t eaten enough or drunk enough water. But sometimes I just cry. Fortunately, in Bikram is looks like sweat so no one knows and it all has the same benefit: Release. They say the cure for everything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. I’m only lacking the sea.
After that rough class, I recovered with dinner:
Thanks for coming by. More Tucson tomorrow.
See you then.