Ethel Magafan Biography

Ethel Magafan




Painter, printmaker, and muralist Ethel Magafan was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 10, 1916. Not long before her and her twin sister, Jenne's, birth their family had immigrated to the U.S. from Greece, and when Ethel was still and infant they relocated once more to Colorado Springs. There, Ethel and Jenne both showed an interest in art, and was encouraged by their father to pursue a formal art education. After Jenne won a scholarship to attend a two month program at the Broadmoor Art Academy (now the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center), the sisters split the prize. They studied under Peppino Mangravite and Boardman Robinson. 

Around this time, muralist Frank Mechau, also a teacher at Broadmoor, hired the sisters to assist him with mural projects for the WPA's Federal Art Project. Under Mechau's mentorship the sisters established themselves as regionalists from an early age, and were known for their Western Realist depcitions of farm life and landscapes. This was particularly key for Ethel's career in muralism, as her ability to familiarize herself with the people of and research the towns in which she worked eventually won her a commission to design a U.S. Postal Service mural in Auburn, Nebraska - the youngest artist to secure such a commission. Its success would lead to six more commissions by the U.S. government, with her final project government taking place in 1979.

Through the WPA Ethel also studied printmaking and studio painting, and as the WPA program - and thus, commissions - began to come to end, she focused more and more on these two mediums. She and Jenne lived in California in the early 1940s, and in 1945, Ethel married artist Bruce Currie and all three artists moved to Woodstock, where Ethel would remain for the rest of her life. In the 1950s both sisters won Fullbright Scholarships and Tiffany Foundation Awards, and in an attempt to find their own artistic paths after several decades of collaborative pursuits, Ethel used her scholarships to travel to Greece while Jenne traveled to Italy. Almost immediately upon their return to the states, Jenne died of a brain hemmorhage.

In an effort to find solace and inspiration, Ethel began traveling to Colorado with some frequency, and she continued to exhibit throughout the U.S. Her primary focus became Cubist-influenced landscape painting in prismatic, egg tempera palettes for which she would become known. In 1968 she was elected an Academician of the National Academy of Design. Her reputation was further cemented by a commission from the U.S. Department of Interior to travel throughout the Western continental states and create sketches of the landscapes, which were then exhibited at the National Gallery, followed by a traveling tour hosted by the Smithsonian Institution. In the 1970s she also began a teaching career which took her to the University of Georgia and Syracuse University. 

Magafan was a member of the American Watercolor Society, Audubon Artists Inc., the National Academy of Design, and the Woodstock Artists Assn., in addition to the WPA/FAP. She died in Woodstock, New York, on April 24, 1993.

Art Insitiute of Chicago, IL (1937 - 1941); New York World's Fair (1939); Denver Art Museum (1938 - 1940); Gallery of Contemporary Art in New York (1940); Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA (1940, 1941); Los Angeles Museum of Art (1945); American Academy of Arts and Lectures, NY (1951); Ganso Gallery, NY (1951); Society of Contemporary American Art, IL (1956); Jacques Seligmann Gallery, NY (1956 - 1966); John Heller Gallery, NY (1958); National Academy of Design (1962, 1965 - 1987); Midtown Galleries, NY (1973); Midtown Galleries, Inc., NY (1979); State University of New York at Albany, NY (1981); National Academy of Design (1985).

 Tiffany Fellowship (1949); Fullbright Scholarship (1951); Hallmar Award (1952); 
Purchase Prize, American Water Color Society (1955); Altman Prize, National Academy of Design (NAD) (1956); Purchase Prize, Los Angeles County Fair (1956); Audubon Artists Medal of Honor, NAD; Ranger Award (1964); Childe Hassam Purchase Award, Academy of Arts and Lectures, NAD (1970).