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Ralph Alexander Chesse, Still Life Variations

Cubist still life of fruit and fish on platter

Ralph Alexander Chesse
Ralph Alexander Chessé, actor, painter, muralist, printmaker, sculptor, and professional puppeteer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on January 6, 1900. Except for a few months of study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1918, Chessé was self-taught as an artist. By 1919, he had returned to New Orleans and worked as an actor, stage manager, and makeup artist at Le Petit Theatre, and the following year he held his first exhibition of his paintings.

Hoping to gain entry into the budding motion picture industry, Chessé moved to Hollywood, California in 1923. After working briefly on the United Artists lot as a timekeeper, he moved north to San Francisco in 1924. The following year he met the artist James Blanding Sloan, who introduced him to puppetry. He played in Sloan’s marionette show but was encouraged to start his own marionette production, which he did in 1927, and in 1929, he opened his own theatre, the Marionette Guild, on Merchant Street in San Francisco. Chessé returned to acting and designed sets for plays.

In 1934, Chessé was selected for the mural project at San Francisco’s Coit Tower. This was his first and only attempt at fresco painting. The following year he began work for the City of Paris department store making up marionette kits and demonstrating how to work them. The Federal Theatre was organized in 1935 and Chessé was appointed director of the puppetry division. The following year he was named State Director for California, which necessitated a move to Los Angeles. Chessé returned to San Francisco in 1939 and produced shows for the Federal Theatre at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island.

He exhibited his paintings at the Gildea Gallery, and the Lucien Labaudt Gallery in San Francisco, and the Duncan Gallery in New York, and the Marc Antony Gallery in New Orleans. He was a member of the San Francisco Art Association and the Oakland Art Association. His work was included in exhibitions at the Oakland Art Gallery (now the Oakland Museum of California) and the de Young Museum, and a solo exhibition of his work was mounted at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Ralph Chessé died in Ashland, Oregon on March 17, 1991.

Still Life Variations, c. 1950
Silkscreen print
image: 9 1/2 x 12 in. (24.1 x 30.5 cm) mat: 17 3/4 x 19 5/8 in. (45.1 x 49.8 cm) sheet: 11 3/8 × 13 7/8 in. (28.9 × 35.2 cm)
Gift of C. William and Eleanor Reiquam