Among our many goals in building the PFF Collection is ensuring that we elevate under-represented artists as much as we do emerging talents and “the greats.” Ralph Chessé is likely one of those marvelous artists that you didn’t catch wind of. Allow us to fix that.
Ralph Chessé is a self-taught artist who focused on painting, printmaking, theatre, and puppetry. After graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago, he moved back to New Orleans where he worked as an actor and stage assistant at Le Petit Theatre. There, he worked with the designer, Marc Antony. Later on, Chessé moved to San Francisco where he met James Blanding Sloan who introduced him to puppetry. Chessé worked with Sloan in his marionette shows for a while. Sloan convinced him to start his own production. Chessé decided to listen to Sloan and started doing productions in 1927 and in 1929 he opened up his own theatre, the Marionette Guild.
In 1931, Chessé traveled to Europe, the Caribbean, and East Asia where he created a new series of paintings. When he returned to the US, Chessé worked along with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) on the Coit Tower in San Francisco. Later on, he worked for the City of Paris department store where he created marionette kits and demonstrated how to use them. In the 1950s Ralph Chessé joined the Latham Foundation’s television program, The Wonderful World of Brother Buzz, operating the marionette for the show’s titular character. His work has been exhibited at the Gildea Gallery, the Lucien Labaudt Gallery in San Francisco, the Duncan Gallery in New York, and the Marc Antony Gallery in New Orleans. Chessé lived in Ashland, Oregon, and continued to create artwork until his death in 1991.
Several years ago, PFF had the great pleasure of connecting with Bruce Chessé, Ralph Chessé’s son, in Portland, OR. Bruce followed in his father’s footsteps and became the Artistic Director of the Oregon Puppet Theater.
It is our distinct honor to be able to share these works with you and to work to preserve Ralph’s artistic legacy.
This post was written by Ellary Jenkins, our Collections Registrar and Marketing Intern. Ellary will be attending the Rhode Island School of Design in the Fall of 2021.