Ethel Magafan Biography

Ethel Magafan




Ethel Magafan, painter, printmaker, and muralist, was born, along with her twin sister Jenne, on 10 August 1916 in Chicago, Illinois. Their father, a Greek immigrant, and their mother, a Polish immigrant, met and wed in Chicago. While the twins were infants the family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado and in 1930 the family relocated to Denver. The sisters showed an interest in art and were encouraged by their father to pursue a formal art education.

While a student at East High School, Ethel won a city-wide art competition and was awarded an eighteen-week art course to study at the Kirkland School of Art in Denver. Helen Perry, the twin’s high school art teacher, recognized their talents and paid their tuition to Frank Mechau’s School of Modern Art in Denver in 1933-34. There they studied composition, color theory, and mural design and painting. Jenne won the Carter Memorial Art Scholarship of $90.00 which she shared with Ethel so they could enroll in the Broadmoor Art Academy in Colorado Springs. There Mechau was once again their teacher but they also studied under Peppino Mangravite and Boardman Robinson. 

When their funds were depleted, Mechau hired the sisters to assist him with mural projects for the WPA's Federal Art Project. Under Mechau's mentorship the sisters learned the complex processes involved in mural painting. Ethel eventually won four commissions to design U.S. Postal Service murals in Nebraska, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Colorado. Through the WPA programs, Ethel also studied printmaking and studio painting.

Ethel and Jenne lived in Los Angeles, California in the early 1940s. Jenne had married fellow artist Eduardo Chavez who was serving in the military. After his discharge, the three drove to Woodstock, New York which they had been regaled about by artists Arnold Blanch and Doris Lee as well as author Irving Stone. In 1946, Ethel married artist Bruce Currie whom she met in Woodstock. Ethel won a Tiffany Foundation Grant in 1949 and a Fulbright Scholarship in 1951 which she used to travel to Greece. Shortly after Ethel’s return, Jenne died.

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 colors. 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 and she was artist-in-residence at the University of Georgia and Syracuse University. 

Ethel Magafan was a member of and exhibited with the American Watercolor Society, Audubon Artists Inc., and the Woodstock Artists Association. She was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1965 and was elevated to full Academician in 1968. Her word garnered numerous awards and she was included in exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Denver Art Museum, Gallery of Contemporary Art in New York, Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Museum of Art, American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, Jacques Seligmann Gallery in New York, John Heller Gallery in New York, the National Academy of Design, Midtown Galleries in New York and the State University of New York at Albany.

The work of Ethel Magafan is represented in the collections of the Georgia Museum of Art, Athens; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Canton Museum of Art, Ohio; the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center at Colorado College; the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, Denver; the Denver Art Museum, Colorado; the Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney; the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Academy, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; the Wichita Art Museum, Kansas; and the Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington

Ethel Magafan Currie died in Woodstock, New York, on April 24, 1993.