Etienne Delessert

Etienne Delessert

LAKEVILLE — Etienne Delessert passed away at his home in Lakeville on April 22, 2024, after suffering complications from a stroke in 2022.

Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1941, Delessert was a self-taught artist and author whose wild imagination illuminated more than 80 children’s books, many posters, and the pages of publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Le Monde. His animation studio in Lausanne created films for Sesame Street and for French and Swiss television channels. Today, his imaginary characters continue to roam the earth, fascinating children and adults across the continents, who may encounter his books in over 14 different languages. Delessert worked with many noted authors, including playwright Eugene Ionesco, Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, and singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. The illustrations for his most recently published children’s book, “Nonsense!” accompany text written in 1846 by Edward Lear.

Throughout his career Delessert’s work won international acclaim. In 1975 a one-man retrospective was held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the Louvre, followed in 1991 by another retrospective in Rome at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. This exhibition traveled to Switzerland, France, Canada, and eight American cities before being shown at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. In 2020 he exhibited for six months at the Tsinghua University Art Museum in Beijing. There is a forthcoming retrospective planned in Lausanne’s Musée Arlaud for March 2025. Locally, he exhibited at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, and at Lakeville’s Hotchkiss School Tremaine Gallery and Argazzi Gallery.

In 2017, Delessert created the Mâitres de l’Imaginaire Foundation. The collection, archived at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva, holds a vast number of original children’s book illustrations created by some of the most outstanding international illustrators, including two local artists, R. O. Blechman and Seymour Chwast. Selected pieces have been exhibited in Geneva, Paris, and Bologna, and there are plans for a future show in Abu Dhabi.

Delessert’s body of work was awarded the Swiss Office of Culture’s highest honor, Le Grand Prix Suisse, in 2023.

In 1981, Delessert met his wife Rita Marshall, an art director at Tracy Locke in Denver, Colorado. She hired him to illustrate an advertising campaign for Mountain Bell and flew to Lausanne to work with him. Luckily, his animation studio was able to finish the seven pieces of art on time while Etienne and Rita visited Paris, flew over the Swiss Alps in a private plane, and took long walks together in the forests of Château-d’Oex. Two weeks after Rita delivered the job to her creative director, she moved to Switzerland. Etienne helped her land a job with the TBWA agency in Zurich, and she eventually branched out on her own, art directing and designing children’s books long-distance for The Creative Company in Minnesota.

The couple relocated to Lakeville in 1985. Rita could have lived in Switzerland forever, but Etienne loved the American lifestyle which he had experienced while living and working in New York in the late 1960s. He especially loved American politics and enjoyed displaying his political preferences on large painted panels in their front yard. Delessert actually became a U.S. citizen so he could vote.

Those long walks in the Swiss Alps soon translated to long walks up and down Main Street in Lakeville. You might have seen the two of them with their dogs, and their young son––walking to the post office almost every day in every kind of weather. When their son outgrew them, they just kept walking, for another 30 years.

Working with Winsted attorney Christine Lavoie, with some help from Ralph Nader, Delessert campaigned to save the Lakeville Post Office in 2012. And along with Robert Riva he was influential in persuading the Connecticut DOT to install a traffic light at the school crossing on Route 44 and to add a sidewalk along Lincoln City Road.

Delessert is survived by his wife Rita Marshall and their son Adrien (Elizabeth) Delessert, of Brooklyn, as well as many cousins in Canada, France, and Switzerland.

The family wishes to thank his exceptional caretakers, Eleanor Scavotto and Alison Tripp; his therapists, Rob Messina, Chrissy Befanis, Katja Schultz, and Jennifer Druan; the Visiting Nurses and Hospice of Litchfield County; the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service; and especially their very kind and generous neighbors. They also extend special thanks to Delessert’s long-time publisher at The Creative Company, Tom Peterson, who endured Etienne’s somewhat mercurial character, but always honored his intelligence, his imagination, and his passion.

Contributions may be made to the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service.

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