By Amy Silverman
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Although it would be another ten years before mass-produced fridge-door decorations made the artist's name a household word, De Grazia's magnetism was not lost on Copper Basin culture vultures who descended upon the work-in-progress 33 years ago. "It took him about eight weeks to complete the thing, and we had students coming down to watch him work every single day," recalls Gurovich. "While he was painting, he'd even lecture to them about art."
"At the time, the kids thought he was just super," recalls Olga Purlia, a retired junior high teacher who supervised several of those scholastic forays into the cocktail lounge. "They'd never had the opportunity to see anyone that famous paint."
A confirmed De Grazia junkie (she admits buying a copy of De Grazia and Mexican Cookery "just for the pictures"), Purlia got another chance to see the master in action when he returned in 1979 to touch up the fading mural.
"We were sitting here in the booth watching him and his assistant, and I finally had to say something," she recalls. "I said, `Listen, De Grazia--you're going to get too damn many stars up there if you're not careful.' Well, the more tequila they drank, the more they painted." Pointing her cigarette at the mural--the right side of the painting resembles a Day-Glo meteor shower--Purlia smiles. "And let me tell you, they went right ahead and put in more damn stars."
"His comment to me was, `I always assess the value of my work in shots of whiskey.'"