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


Links about
family members

Norman Rush site 1
Norman Rush site 2

Peter Albin site 1
Peter Albin site 2

Ralph is on lower right infront on his grandmother. His mother is on the far left in back of Ralph's brother and his father is in the middle of the photo. The other relatives in the photo are Ralph's aunt with her daughter and granddaughter.

Ralph Chessé was the patriarch of a large creative family. He was a Renaissance man in the grandest sense with diverse interests in the arts: theater, sculpture, puppetry, painting, writing and music. His artwork spanned almost the entire 20th century. Before 1950 Chessé painted African American figures in scenes recalling his boyhood in New Orleans, in socially realist depictions of dock workers, and in religious themed motifs derived from the Bible. In 1953, the success of his television program "Brother Buzz", the longest sustaining children's program in SF's television history (1953-1969) brought him a financial independence he had not ever had in his lifetime. It afforded him an opportunity to travel to Europe in 1956 where he could revel in the culture of Europe and see for the first time, in person, the Paris of the impressionists which so greatly influenced him as a young man. It changed his style of painting and brought him back to the easel, from which he had retreated late in the 40's. From that point on he painted nonstop until he was 91 leaving behind a large legacy of art.


A Chessé arrived with Bienville in 1698 at the mouth of the Mississippi. Bienville was the one responsible for the original survey to determine where the city of New Orleans would be located. The ship's Manifest has a Michael Chessé listed as a freebooter (pirate).

The Chessés arrived in the United States during the last half of the 18th century. Some came directly from France and some by way of Santo Domingo on the island of Cuba. After arriving in Lousiana they first settled in Pointe Coupe and built a sugar cane plantation where Joseph Alexander Chessé was born in 1802. He married (or lived with) a slave named Justine Olivier in 1830 and subsequently moved to New Orleans.

The plans for the development of New Orleans was laid out in 1721 so we know that the Chessés were instrumental in the building of New Orleans. and The family house was built in 1830, at 1800 Burgundy on the corner of Kerleric off Esplanade. This was the heart of the French quarter in the Creole Faubourgs. It still stands today and can be found on the historical register.

Ralph Chessé,1900 -1990, and his siblings were born and raised there until the whole family moved to San Francisco in 1928. On the census records all the Chessés were listed as black. As happens in many mixed families some identified with the French white culture and some identified with the Black Culture and strengthened those genes. Chessé's fought in black regiments during the civil war. Jim Crow split families and those that could pass as white did so for reasons, unknown to me. My fathers family chose to identify with their French heritage and all married Caucasians. My grandfather's sister Florentine married Henri Alcard and their line is continued through the Bouttés of New Orleans who are an important part of the Black community and are among other things internationl Jazz musicians and greatly involved in the cultural life of New Orleans post Katrina.  


My father always spoke with great affection of his boyhood in New Orleans and of the closeness of everyone that lived there. Much of what he paints is a reflection of families as well, and always expressing a distinct point of view.

Of course, in San Francisco nothing was known of my father’s African American heritage. The patriarchs of the Chessé family immigrated to Lousiana from France in the 1700’s and always considered themselves of French heritage irrespective of any intermarriage that occured in 1830 which was before the Civil War and Jim Crow, when racial integration was not as frowned upon. French chauvinism was the rule, it didn’t matter what color you were. After the Civil War people had to chose which part of their heritage was to be emphasized as happened in the best Louiisiana families many chose to “pass” as the lighter members of the Chessé’s did

It was only in the late twentieth century that our Black American heritage was to be investigated and/or recognized. Interestingly enough, this was instituted by our French relatives in Amiens, France who began tracing our history in the 60’s. As a child, it never occurred to me to ask my father why he focused so much on black subject matter in his paintings prior to 1950. I always found them remarkable images.

The Extended Family
Ralph Chessé's influence was felt by everyone in his extended family. We were 12 cousins in all, 2 girls and 10 boys, all of whom spent all their summers, until high school, together in Camp Meeker with our parents and grandparents. My father was the only one of the fathers who never held a 9 to 5 job and devoted his life to his art. He served as the role model for all of us who followed in his footsteps choosing to find something that we could feel passionate about and stick with.

My cousin Norman Rush, a novelist, won the National Book award for his book Mating, in 1991, following this with Mortels in 2003. His brother Robert made political buttons in the "60's, which are now in museums in the US and England

Cousins Peter Albin, bass guitarist, with "Big Brother and the Holding Company", and his brother Rodney went on to help give birth to Rock and Roll, giving the psychedelic movement a home in the Height Ashbury (my uncle owned 1090 Page where the first rock concerts were given and the Albins were managers of it). They took him to many of the Fillmore Rock concerts and their influence was so great that my father ended up exhibiting his paintings with the psychedelic poster artists.

Cousin Nick Rush came up with the idea of screen savers using Disney images and has distinguished himself in the software field. My brother Dion and I were major figures in the San Francisco little theater scene in the 50's 60's and 70's. We also created venues for my father to perform in. I am also an internationally known puppeteer and a pioneer in the area of Puppetry in Education
My Brother Dion's son, Matt Chessé is now a successful film editor in "A" films. He edited Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland, Stay and Stranger than Fiction and to his credit they have gone on to garner several Academy Award nominations and one award for the actress, Halle Berry. He edited Kite Runner with Marc Forster which is scheduled to be released in October 2007.

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