Bruce Chessé
PO Box 15203
Portland OR 97293-5203


Ralph Chessé
Bruce Chessé

New Orleans1919-1928
Asia 1931-1942
Biblical Series 1940-1950
WPA Style
Theater Series
1960 -1969
Paris Exhibition 1963
Moore Gallery 1967
Poster Period

left hand paintings
Watermedia & Drawing
Silk Screen
African American Images
Marionettes 1928-1939
Marionettes 1940-1984
Brother Buzz 1952-1969

January 6, 1900 Born in New Orleans, Louisiana on. Early schooling was in New Orleans and Chicago.

1917 Started painting (basically self-taught).

1918 Attended the Chicago Art Institute.

1919 Returned to New Orleans and worked at Le Petit Theatre as an actor and assistant to the stage designer, Marc Antony. Was also head Makeup man for the theatre.

1920 Exhibited first paintings in New Orleans.

1920 Played 2 weeks with Ted Lorch's stock company in New Orleans.

1923 Went to San Francisco, California for the first time. Went to Southern California to try to break into Hollywood. Worked as a time keeper on the United Artist lot.

1924 Returned to San Francisco and worked with a theatrical costume company painting and designing costumes.

1925 Met Blanding Sloan, artist, etcher, and puppeteer who was teaching a scene design class. Moved into his studio on Polk and Greenwich where he was first initiated into puppetry by Sloan. Played in his marionette show and worked with him designing and demonstrating the art of batik and making silk scarves.

1925 Played the violin with Haywire Mac's group of musicians. They were a backup group to Mac's singing a collection of folk songs.

1926 Made a trip to New York with Sam Eskin, and his wife, Jo Dupree, in an old Star car. Arrived in NY in March of 1926 after many wild adventures cross country. Here he met Remo Bufano (early puppeteer who produced the puppets for Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex) who introduced him to the art of puppetry. He got a job working as a scene painter and makeup man with Aline Bernstein at the Neighborhood Playhouse. In December, he married Josephine Dupree and returned to New Orleans on the Morgon Liner Momus.

1927 Returned to San Francisco and again was associated with Blanding Sloan who encouraged him to produce his first marionette production of Shakespeare's Hamlet. He then got an acting part in Molière's The Doctor in Spite of Himself.

1927 Joined the Modern Gallery and exhibited in their group at 718 Montgomery. Jo gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. They lived only a few minutes. This same year he had his first one man show in Berkeley, CA.

1928 Exhibited a series of block prints at the East-West Gallery in San Francisco. This was followed by an exhibition of drawings and block prints at Gumps. Built a marionette of Hamlet and gave his first performance of Hamlet in Blanding Sloan's theatre , 718 Montgomery Street, San Francisco in June. This was followed by productions of Eugene O' Neil's Emperor Jones and Shakespeare's Macbeth. He also submitted a painting called "The Negro Madonna" to the Art Association's Annual Art Exhibition and won the 2nd Anne Bremer Prize, which he shared with Matt Barnes.

1929 Ralph moved into his first puppet theatre, The Marionette Guild on Merchant Street (called the Monkey Block and now the site of the Transamerica Building). He opened his theatre with productions of Molière's Don Juan. A son, Dion Marcus Chessé, was born on August 1st. At the same time he was designing stage settings for Reginald Traver's Theatre in the Fairmont Hotel.

1930 Hansel and Gretel, The Pie and the Tart, The Moor's Legacy, and The Man who Married A Dumb Wife were added to the Guild's repertoire. In addition he assisted Jack Ford in mounting a marionette production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe (with Jack's marionettes).

1931 The Marionette Guild Theatre was closed and Ralph shipped out on the US Army transport U.S. Grant as a bell hop, with his brother Rowland, a steward assigned to the ship. This was his first trip to the Far East. It went from San Francisco to New York and back by way to the Panama canal.
On returning home he shipped out again to Honolulu, the Philippines, China and Japan.

1932 Designed more settings for Reggie Traver's theatre in the Fairmont Hotel. He was also an actor with their company appearing in productions of Chekov's Uncle Vanya and Richlieu (as Louis XIII).
Designed a set for the De Wolf Hopper production of Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore. Revived a production of O'Neill's The Emperor Jones at the Traver's Theatre in the Fairmont Hotel for Mrs. Alma B. Spreckles in exchange for a new portable stage finance by Spreckles.
This was followed by marionette productions of Romeo and Juliet and Hansel and Gretel.

1932 Was commissioned to produce 2 biblical plays for Rabbi Weinstein and Temple Beth Israel. Moved back to 718 Montgomery Street (where Hamlet was first performed) and prepared The Story of Esther and David and Goliath which was performed at Temple Beth Israel. Added Siegfried and Boucher's Noël to the repertoire and built a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado. With all this activity his painting was curtailed, nevertheless Ralph had time to do live acting performances with Jack Thomas and his theater on Commercial Street: Sganarelle in Molière's Don Juan, Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide, Polonius, the Ghost and the 1st gravedigger to Jack's Hamlet as well as Iago in Othello, Volpone and all of the character makeups.

1933 He then moved into a larger theater on Clay Street between Van Ness and Polk Street. Going through their repertoire again they were to add a modern Variety show with Bernard Shaw as MC as well as Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Miser by Molière, an ultra-modern production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Alice and Wonderland and The Merchant of Venice.

1934 Ralph continued with the repertoire he had built. That year the Federal Government designated the Coit Tower as the first major project of the art program planned for the Works Project Administration. 25 artists were selected to cover the walls with frescos. Ralph submitted a design for Playground which was assigned and accepted, being given the round space at the top of the stairs. It was a small space and was completed in three weeks. It is still to be seen there. At the end of 1934 the depression got worse and The Marionette Guild had to close its doors.

1935 Ralph then went to work for the City of Paris in the toy department of that department store. He made up marionette kits to be sold and demonstrated how to build a marionette from them. He also sold hand-made marionettes in the toy department and gave children shows on Saturdays. In addition he built a set of characters for the Christmas window. It was a circus with mechanical animation. In the center of the window was a puppet stage where 4 shows a day were given. On August 27, 1935 Jo gave birth to fraternal twins Renée and Bruce.

1936 The Federal Theater was organized in San Francisco and Ralph was appointed Director of the puppetry unit. 17 people were hired, few with puppet or theatre experience. Their first project was James Stephen's The Crock of Gold, an Irish fantasy. This story was adapted by people on the project. He designed, directed and trained the company, which was ready to perform in less than 3 months. During that year he also brought in his own productions of The Mikado, Alice in Wonderland, and A Marionette Variety Show. A new Emperor Jones was built and played successfully in the large Columbia Theatre.

1937 Ralph was made State Director for California and was sent to Los Angeles to reorganize their large company of 50 people. He moved his whole family down to LA and remained there until 1939. Shows were exchanged between the two units. A truck stage was built on the LA Project which played every day to all of the schools and playgrounds.

1938 He were ordered to provide shows for the Federal Theater on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay during the Golden Gate Exposition. Ralph designed a production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, another Variety Show and an LA production of Rip Van Winkle. He devised a revolving stage which sped up scene changes.

1939 They moved the shows to Treasure Island and were ready in the Spring. They performed these shows to enthusiastic audiences until June 30th when without advance notice the projects were terminated and we were all sent back to the Los Angeles Art Project for the rest of the year.

1940 The Oakland and San Francisco Recreation Projects were still functioning under the WPA and Ralph returned to produce Pinocchio which played at the Fair until it closed. Ralph then worked on the WPA Art Project until notice came from Washington ordering all WPA workers to go into war training programs. He took drafting and ship fitting and then got a job on the docks checking airplane parts going to the war zone for the government. He was then transferred to Marinship remarking blue prints of the oil tankers to be built. He was again transferred to the mold loft of Marinship handling blue print alterations being made on the tankers. He made thumbnail sketches in his spare time and painted weekends. During this time he developed a series of biblical paintings using Negro subject matter. Some of his paintings were exhibited with other artists in war work in an exhibition that was sent to the Soviet Union. (None of the paintings were ever seen again. Their present whereabouts is unknown). Later that year he had a one-man show of the biblical series at the Lucian Labaudt Gallery on Franklin and Sacramento Streets.

1942 Freelance art work was scarce and workers were still needed for the war effort. He then joined the mill workers union taking a job at a sash and door mill. After that he found work with maintenance crews on ships coming in for repairs from the war zone. In addition he worked for the Henry Arian Construction Company as a color consultant and house painter.

1944-48 Freelanced as a designer of wallpaper, wall murals and various puppet projects.

1949 He began to teach puppetry for adult education and San Francisco State College. Directed and designed a production of Dickens' Oliver Twist. He also found work as an actor starring in a Bay Theater production of Volpone.

1950-51 Continued teaching puppetry at S.F. State College. Created Holiday puppet shows for the Emporium in downtown San Francisco. With the emergence of the new medium television, Ralph began producing commercials. He then produced his first television series called Willie and the Baron.

1952 He was asked to create a children's television program, on KPIX, called The Wonderful World of Brother Buzz, sponsored by the Lathum Foundation for the Promotion of Humane Education. It subsequently ran for 17 years and in 1953 won a First Award for local and regional programing from the Institute for Eduction by Radio-Television, Ohio State University.

1956 Now a successful producer in television, Ralph was asked to create puppets for Enrique Jorda and the San Francisco Symphony. Together they collaborated on a production of Manual De Falla's El Retablo or Master Peter's Puppet Show.

1957 He was invited to mount a new marionette production of Eugene O'Neil's The Emperor Jones.

1958 He worked on two television series for TV: Freshie and the King Norman Show and puppets for S I Hayakawa's Language in Action on Educational TV, KQED.

1958 Designed life-sized animated figures for the San Francisco Opera's production of Carl Orf's The Wise Maiden. All this new-found success in television allowed Ralph to make his first trip to Europe and he began painting again in earnest.

1959 Exhibited a group of his new paintings at the Gildea Gallery on Sutter Street.

1960 Appeared as Kamenv in the television series The Red Myth for PBS and KQED, San Francisco. Mounted an exhibition of paintings and marionettes at Aesthetics Unlimited on Fillmore Street in SF.

1962 Held an exhibit of new paintings at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery, SF.

1963 Exhibition of new paintings at the <1960-1969.Duncan.html">Duncan Gallery in New York and Paris. A third exhibition was held at the Marc Antony Gallery in New Orleans.

1964 Brother Buzz is picked up by KGO and ABC and is shown nationally. This was in a16mm format.

1965 Ralph joined Actors Equity and appeared in Showboat with Kathryn Grayson and at the Hyatt Theater in San Mateo.

1966 Appeared in Palo Alto at the Commedia Theater in three Equity productions, Molière's Tartuffe, with Victor Buno, Shaw's Candida, with Sylvia Sydney and Shakespeare's Othello with Brock Peters.

1967 Appeared in Arthur Miller's The Crucible for the American Conservatory Theater on Geary Street in San Francisco in their inaugral season.

1967 Exhibited in a group exhibition with the renowned "hippie" poster artists at the Moore Gallery on Sutter Street.

1968 Appeared in Once Over Nightly at the On Broadway in SF. 1974 He made his second trip to Europe (this prompted another group of new paintings).

1976 Appeared in the film Raid on Entebbe.

1977 Made a third trip to Europe, travelling throughout France (this prompted another group of new paintings).

1979 Appeared in the film Tell Me A Riddle, with Melvyn Douglas.

1979/80 Created a new production of Shakespeare's Macbeth with his sons Bruce and Dion at the University of San Francisco and at the Hall of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

1980 Went on a fourth trip to Europe (more paintings).

1981 Ralph took a cruise on the S.S. Atlantic, visiting the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas, Montserrat, Antiqua, the Barbaddos, Martinique and Puerto Rico. This brought about a return to black subject matter in oils, drawings, watercolors and linocuts.

1982 Ralph was given a book about the left side of the brain. This prompted a series of paintings done with his left hand which gave birth to a series of painting done entirely with his left hand. It should be noted that Ralph was by nature left-handed but in early schooling he was forced to use his right hand to write and draw etc.

1983 He continued to paint in his retirement and made a move from Ashland, Oregon where he lived until his death with his son Dion.

1984 His move to Ashland brought him in contact with natural landscapes and for the first time we see him painting landscapes. This became another entirely new interest and a series of paintings that depicted the Oregon countryside.

1985 Ralph continued painting and with his son Dion produced his last marionette production of Molière's The Doctor in Spite of Himself and Dondo's The Pie and the Tart at Southern Oregon State College.

1986-1990 Still painting.

1990 Suffered a series of small strokes.

1991 Ralph died in a nursing home on St. Patrick's day of heart failure (he was followed six weeks later by his son Dion, of acute lymphoma).


website design
Bonnie Meltzer

Home...........About the Chessé Family............Ralph Chessé...........Bruce Chessé