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Ralph Chessé

American, 1900-1991


New Orleans January 6, 1900

Occupation or Type


Northwest artist

Oregon artist


Although Ralph Chessé often painted African American figures, it still came as a surprise when his son discovered, upon Chessé's death, that his birth certificated listed him as "colored." Susequent research revealed that Chessé's great grandmother was a slave. Ironically, Chessé's obscurity as an artist--not commesurate with his talent and output--may have been due in part to people's inability to embrace a (perceived) white artist who painted black subjects. He was known for his work with marionettes, which included producing a popular national children's television series featuring a bee named Brother Buzz. After spending over fifty years in the Bay Area, Chessé moved to Ashland, Oregon, at the age of eighty-four. For the first time, Chessé painted with his left hand (as a "lefty," he had been retrained as a boy to use his right hand)--and, also for the first time, he painted landscapes.

Artist biography reproduced with permission of Katharine Harmon, author of The Pacific Northwest Landscape: A Painted History.



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