Magafan, Ethel and Jenne

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Magafan, Ethel and Jenne

American painters and muralists who were well known during the 1930s and 1940s.

Magafan, Ethel (1916–1993) . Born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 10, 1916; died in 1993; daughter of Petros Magafan, also seen as Peter J. Magafan, and Julia (Bronick) Magafan; twin sister of artist Jenne Magafan; studied in the public schools in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; married Bruce Currie (an artist), on June 30, 1946; children: one daughter, Jenne Magafan Currie.


Tiffany Foundation award (1950s); Fulbright fellowship (1950s); Childe Hassam Purchase award from the Academy of Arts and Letters (1970); Altman prize from the National Academy of Design; the Hallgarten Award; Edwin Austin Abbey Mural Award (1980).

Magafan, Jenne (1916–1952) . Born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 10, 1916; died in Woodstock, New York, in 1952; daughter of Petros Magafan, also seen as Peter J. Magafan, and Julia (Bronick) Magafan; twin sister of artist Ethel Magafan; studied in the public schools in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; married Edward Chavez (an artist).


Tiffany Foundation award (1950s); Fulbright fellowship (1950s).

Born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 10, 1916, twin sisters Jenne Magafan and Ethel Magafan were the daughters of Petros Magafan, who had emigrated from Greece in 1912, and Julia Bronick Magafan . Petros soon moved his family from Chicago to Colorado Springs, Colorado, the mountains of which reminded him of Greece. The Magafan sisters grew up with their father's love of mountainous terrain.

Both sisters showed a remarkable talent for art, which was encouraged by their teachers in public school, and they decided to pursue careers in painting while still quite young. Jenne won the Carter Memorial Art Scholarship, carrying a stipend of $90, which she shared with Ethel. The two began their formal art studies at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, where they were taught by Frank Mechau, Boardman Robinson, and Peppino Mangravite. After two months of study, when their scholarship money was gone, Mechau was so impressed by their talent that he hired them to work as assistants on some of his mural projects. This early training helped prepare the sisters to enter juried competitions sponsored by the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts (one of the federal projects created during the Great Depression). In one such competition in 1937, Ethel won her first commission to create a mural, Wheat Threshing, for the post office in Auburn, Nebraska. Later that year, her design for the mural The Lawrence Massacre, intended for a post office in Fort Scott, Kansas, was rejected because the subject matter was too disturbing. The same official who rejected the mural nonetheless praised its design.

Jenne's first major commission was the mural Western Town, which depicts a typical town in the West during frontier days. Inhabited largely by tough-looking cowboy types, the mural was executed for the post office in Helper, Utah. It shows a blacksmith contemplating his handiwork, a woman entering the town's general store-cum-post office, two hard-bitten horsemen entering town on their mounts, and a saloon in the distance. The artist's signature appears on a scrap of discarded paper that lies on the street of the town. The influence of such early Renaissance masters as Massacio and Giotto is evident in the murals of both sisters.

The twins exhibited a number of their easelsize paintings together at least seven times and jointly produced the large-scale mural, Mountains and Snow, for the boardroom of the Social Security Building (later known as the Health, Education, and Welfare Building) in Washington, D.C.

During a visit to Los Angeles in pursuit of an assignment, the Magafans met artists Doris Lee and Arnold Blanch, who spoke so enthusiastically about the artists' colony at Woodstock, New York, that the sisters soon moved their base of operations to this village on the Hudson River. Soon thereafter each met and married a fellow artist. Jenne married Edward Chavez and

Ethel wed Bruce Currie. While the relationship between the two sisters and their spouses remained extremely close, the twins were now working in separate studios for the first time, which eventually led to the development of distinct styles. In a review of their joint exhibition at New York's Ganso Gallery in 1950, a writer for Art News observed: "Ethel is the more rugged painter, interested primarily in horses…. Jenne, whose style is similar but more sensitive, more often makes people the center of interest."

When both sisters received Tiffany Foundation awards and Fulbright fellowships for study abroad in the early 1950s, Ethel used hers to visit Greece, the homeland of their father, while Jenne studied in Italy. Both returned to their homes in Woodstock in 1952. Only a few days after her return, Jenne suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and died at the age of 36. Although, in time, Ethel continued with her career, producing murals into her late 60s, she later described her sister's death as "a tragedy from which I have never fully recovered." She named her only daughter Jenne Magafan Currie . Ethel died in 1993.

Murals by Ethel Magafan can be found in the U.S. Senate Chamber, the Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington, D.C., and in post offices at Wynne, Arkansas; Mudill, Oklahoma; and Denver, Colorado.


Bailey, Brooke. The Remarkable Lives of 100 Women Artists. Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams, 1994.

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1982.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania