Robert Pearson McChesney Biography

Robert Pearson McChesney




Robert Pearson McChesney [Mac], painter, printmaker, sculptor, and teacher, was born in Marshall, Missouri on 16 January 1913. He graduated from Marshall High School in 1931 and then studied at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis between 1933 and 1934. McChesney headed to Montana where he worked as a bus driver at Glacier National Park and on the construction of Fort Peck Dam before heading to California where he studied at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles between 1936 and 1937. During the winter of 1937, McChesney arrived in San Francisco and found employment on the WPA Art Project. He painted ship murals for the USS Monterey and was assigned to the mural project for the Federal Building for the Golden Gate International Exposition which opened on 17 February 1939 on Treasure Island. He also assisted Anton Refregier with the murals for the Rincon Annex Post Office in San Francisco. A Bohemian at heart, he set up his studio in North Beach in San Francisco and hung out with artists at the Iron Pot Cafe and the Black Cat. Politically vocal, McChesney joined marches against racial, labor, and governmental injustices and was an organizer for the Labor movement.

During World War II, McChesney served in the US Merchant Marine in the South Pacific theater. These exotic cultures had a profound impact on the imagery of his shipboard paintings. After the war, he returned to San Francisco where his first solo show was held at the Raymond and Raymond Gallery in 1944. In 1949, McChesney sailed round the world on the USS President Monroe and that same year he married fellow artist, Mary Fuller. McChesney joined the faculty of the California School of Fine Arts in 1950 and taught serigraphy and life drawing. During this time, he lived in Point Richmond where he shared a house with Mary Fuller, Hassel Smith, Edward Corbett, and Weldon Kees. After losing their jobs as a result of spurious McCarthyism, McChesney and Fuller left in 1951 for a year in Mexico where they lived in Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende. The following year they relocated to rural Sonoma County, California where McChesney hand-built a house and studios on the top of Sonoma Mountain in Petaluma.

McChesney had over forty solo exhibitions, including retrospectives at the Fresno Art Museum, the Nevada Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Art Commission Gallery. His work won several awards and is included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth; the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University, Logan; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Oakland Museum of California; the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California; and the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts. His life and art are chronicled in Robert McChesney: An American Painter by Mary Fuller.

Robert Pearson McChesney died on 10 May 2008 in his mountain top home in Sonoma County, California.