Magda Gryparis is an award-winning oil and watercolor artist. She is also a published author. But that doesn’t begin to tell you who she is. I recently spent a morning with Gryparis and her …
I am anchor
Palo Verde Artists highlight prolific member
By Judy Wright
Magda Gryparis is an award-winning oil and watercolor artist. She is also a published author. But that doesn’t begin to tell you who she is. I recently spent a morning with Gryparis and her husband Demetri to discuss her recently published book, “The Transformative Power of Art,” co-authored with Maria Katsaros-Molzahn, and Gryparis’ journey to becoming an artist.
Her story cannot be told without revisiting World War II and the Greek Civil War years. As a small child, Gryparis experienced the terrors and trauma of living through war. She was just three years old in 1941 when the Germans invaded her hometown of Athens, Greece. Their home was located very close to a munitions factory set up by the Germans which was being bombed nightly by the Allies. She recalls awakening in the night to the sound of the air raid sirens and fleeing with her parents to a bomb shelter.
Gryparis has not forgotten the anxiety on the faces of her parents and the fear it struck in her own heart. Her life became one of struggling to survive as the Germans seized all food distribution centers and cut off all food supplies, leaving the inhabitants of Athens to starve. She recalls scrounging for food and gleaning pieces of coal from the train tracks so they could heat their home. Her family was forced to flee to Rovoliari, a remote mountain village where her father was born, to find shelter and to survive.
This took an enormous mental and emotional toll, which Gryparis recounts in her book “The Village: The War and the Occupation through the Eyes of a Four-Year-Old,” published in 2017.
The war followed them into the mountains as the Germans pursued the resistance fighters and they were eventually forced to return to their home in Athens where they remained until the end of World War II. However, that was not the end for the Greek people who subsequently were plunged into a three-year long civil war.
In 1945, following the end of the war, humanitarian organizations organized to provide relief to Europe. One day, a small group of Red Cross volunteers brought gifts to Gryparis’ school that were sent by American school children. She received a pair of red socks with a note written in English that came from Norma Daniels, a young woman living in Ohio. In order to read the correspondence, it was necessary to find someone who knew English to translate the letters. The red socks and the note written in English became the catalyst for friendship, learning a new language and eventually, the motivation for Gryparis and her family to seek to emigrate to America.
Daniels married soon after Gryparis received her gift but Norma’s mother, Marguerite Daniels, and Marguerite’s niece, Joyce Lump, continued the correspondence.
Gryparis had been interested in art from an early age and was hoping to eventually study art at university but her family did not have the resources for that. So instead, motivated by her friendship with Lump, she began studying English, taking night classes and reading books in English that she bought at an English book store. She received her English Language Certificate when she graduated from high school and a year later the Proficiency in English Diploma. She passed the necessary exams and received a Proficiency in English diploma from the University of Michigan to become an English teacher. She then obtained a teacher’s license from the Greek Ministry of Education and opened her own English language school. Gryparis and Demetri married in 1960 and emigrated to the United States in 1967. Her dreams of becoming an artist were put on the backburner as she taught English and started a family. When Gryparis, Demetri and their young son were ready to emigrate, Joyce (Lump) Morgan and her husband, David Morgan, became their sponsors and welcomed them to their new home in Middletown, OH. Magda and Demetri integrated into the community, purchasing a car and a home and joining the local Greek Orthodox Church, where they became active members.
Demetri started a handyman business and Gryparis became the translator and office manager for what became Gryparis Construction.
Gryparis was born with a congenital hip joint disability but it had never stood in the way of her doing what she set out to do and she lived a normal life. However, in 1969 the FDA approved the modern hip replacement procedure. Due to challenges created by her hip during her pregnancies, she visited an orthopedic specialist who advised her to have a hip replacement. Now with two young children to care for, the idea of increased mobility appealed to her and after discussing with the doctor and her husband, she elected to have the procedure. A fall shortly after the hip replacement resulted in a second hip replacement the same week. That artificial hip lasted only a few years and after a third hip replacement, the pain was worse than ever and she was devastated.
Their search for answers led them to the Cleveland Clinic where it was discovered that her hip needed to be completely reconstructed with bone grafting. She was bedridden for seven months and endured countless hours of physical therapy before her doctor declared her hip reconstruction a success. However, Gryparis was mentally exhausted and severely depressed. She consulted with her family physician who initially put her on medications but they made her feel worse. Unable to function, she returned to the doctor who suggested she find something to do that made her happy. That “something” turned out to be art. She realized that she had a deep craving inside to be able to paint. With the doctor’s encouragement, Gryparis found an art class at the community center and she signed up for an oil painting class and a graphite drawing class. Gryparis realized this was a dream come true and she noticed that she began to feel hope and that the fog and numbness of depression began to lessen. When Gryparis painted, she noticed something happening while taking these classes: “I started waking up in a ‘light’ mood. The depression had been so bad for so long that I used to wake up in metaphorical darkness. But, as soon as I opened my eyes, my brain remembered that I would be painting today, and a sliver of light opened up. Painting became my silver lining.”
Life began to improve in many ways: her attitude, her mood, her optimism and her energy all began to show improvement. She began to feel like her life once again had meaning and purpose.
“Time and space did not exist. I forgot my pains, my suffering, and my fears. Those minutes and hours I painted became my most thrilling and happy times. When I took a break from painting, I was anxious to return to it to feel that exhilaration again,” Gryparis stated.
Demetri also became involved in her recovery. Wherever they lived, he altered or added to their home to include a studio where Gryparis could work. When she began selling her art, he cut mats, framed paintings, made prints, hung the work and helped with the exhibits and stood by her side helping to sell her art. Demetri was a constant source of help and encouragement as Gryparis pursued her dreams.
Magda and Demetri became empty nesters and relocated to Arizona in 1996, where it was hoped the dry climate would offer some relief for the pain she continued to have. She loves the dry heat and says it “lifts her spirits.” Gryparis became active in the arts community, joining the Peoria Fine Arts Association, Palo Verde Artists, Artists by the Lake and other art groups. She has won many awards for her vibrant watercolors and oil paintings, which often feature her beloved Greece and flowers from her garden. She finds selling her paintings rewarding, but being recognized by her fellow artists is even more rewarding. Although her health and mobility continue to be a challenge, the power of art has helped her retain her positive outlook and to continue doing what she loves most.
For Gryparis, art enabled her to dig out from under the depression she felt and the constant pain she was living with. When not painting, she was eager to get back to it because of the relief it brought. Art became the transformative power in her life, aided by the support of her husband and family, the encouragement of her doctor and her faith community and the guidance of a very special art teacher, Larry Doud. The process and path to healing is usually not done in a vacuum and this is certainly true in Gryparis’ case. She found her passion and experienced the healing power of fulfilling a dream with the love and support of those around her.
Her books, “The Village: The War and the Occupation through the Eyes of a Four-Year-Old” and “The Transformative Power of Art,” are available on Amazon. Follow her on Facebook at Magda Gryparis, Artist.
Membership in Palo Verde Artists is $10 per year and is open to Recreation Centers of Sun City card holders only.
Visit paloverdeartists.com for more information and to see more of Gryparis’ artwork.