Jul 11 – Oct 4, 2015
Georgia Museum of Art
90 Carlton Street
Athens, GA 30602
Ralph Chessé (1900–1991) was a painter, sculptor and puppeteer who spent time in New Orleans, Europe and San Francisco. His travels and his work as a theater actor and puppeteer deeply influenced his work.
Born in New Orleans to a family of African American and French Creole ancestry, Chessé attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1918 to 1919 as his only formal training. Listed as black on his birth certificate, he moved to San Francisco with his family in 1928, where they passed for white. His son Bruce Chessé says that, despite his father’s frequent focus on African Americans as subjects, it did not occur to later generations of the family to research their heritage until the late 20th century. He points out that the Chessés emigrated to Louisiana from France in the 18th century, and that the family considered itself French regardless of at least one instance of cross-racial intermarriage that occurred before the Civil War. Lighter-skinned family members would have had good reason to avoid identifying themselves as African American in a time of segregation and widespread prejudice.
Ralph Chessé eventually created a successful children’s television program, “The Wonderful World of Brother Buzz,” which ran for 17 years on San Francisco’s KPIX. The success of the show allowed him to travel to Europe, a journey that inspired him visually and motivated him to return to painting. This exhibition gathers paintings, puppets and works on paper that span his long and multifaceted career.
Curator: Laura Valeri, associate curator of European art