Jenne and Ethel Magafan were identical twins, born in Chicago to a Greek immigrant father and a Polish mother. Due to health concerns about their father, the family moved to Colorado, living first in Colorado Springs and then in Denver. He was a proud supporter of their artistic ambitions but died suddenly 1932, a heavy blow to both of them. They attended East High School in Denver, where they found a mentor in their art teacher Helen Perry. She had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago but had later abandoned a career as an artist, making her all the more determined to help the Magafan twins succeed artistically.
While still in high school, the twins impressed artist Frank Mechau, and Helen Perry paid for their lessons with him. He subsequently invited them to apprentice with him at his Redstone studio. In 1936, Jenne won the Carter Memorial Art Scholarship and shared it with her sister so that they both could attend the Broadmoor Art Academy in Colorado Springs. Once they ran out of money, Mechau, now teaching there, hired them as assistants. Through their involvement at the Academy, the twins entered into careers as muralists, working at first with Mechau and then with Peppino Mangravite.
From 1937 to 1943, Ethel was commissioned to paint her first of seven government sponsored murals. Located in the US Post Office in Auburn, Nebraska, this commission made Ethel (at age 26) the youngest artist in America to receive such an honor. Denver Art Museum director Donald J. Bear once commented that "[Ethel and Jenne's] study of local detail makes them appear as little Bruegels of ranch genre - natural and unforced."
As mural painting commissions diminished, Ethel began to do more easel painting for which she used a palette knife and tempera paints to great effect. After settling in California for five years, the twins permanently relocated to Woodstock, New York in 1945, where the sisters lived apart for the first time. Ethel developed an increasing focus within her work, particularly for horses and abstract landscapes. She met fellow artist Bruce Currie at an artist's party, and the two were married in 1946.
The twins and their husbands went to Greece and Italy for a year when Jenne's husband and Ethel were granted Fulbright Scholarships. Upon their return, Jenne died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage, a loss that Ethel would mourn deeply. With her sister gone, her landscapes became much more abstract, as she sought out the feeling of the scene rather than an exact representation. During the mid-fifties, she began to make annual trips to Colorado. Her stature within the art world was solidified in 1971 when the United States Department of Interior requested that Ethel tour and draw sketches throughout the Western U.S. These sketches were later exhibited at the National Gallery in Washington and then sent on a national tour by the Smithsonian Institution.
Taught: Artist-in-residence, University of Georgia, Athens, 1973; Syracuse University, 1976.
Awards: Fulbright Grant, 1951.
Murals: Washington DC - Senate Chamber, Department of Health Education and Welfare, 1941; Post offices in Auburn, NE, (1938), Wynne, AR (1940), Madill, OK (1941), South Denver Branch, CO (1942).
Exhibitions: Denver Art Museum, 1938-40, 42, 43; "Artists of the West of the Mississippi", 1940, 41 & 45; Metropolitan Museum of Art; National Academy of Design, 1965-78.
Works Held: Denver Art Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, NY; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH; National Museum of American Art; Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, KS.
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