May 22, 2023 - 11:44am

In Memoriam: Ralph Lee

In Memoriam: Ralph Lee

Ralph Lee, an artist in residence at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine since 1984, has died. The puppets that float through the Cathedral every Halloween are Ralph’s. The procession of ghouls, as he called it, was a logical outgrowth of the Village Halloween Parade, which Ralph founded in 1974. The puppets are stories-tall, and even against the backdrop of the largest church in the United States, they seemed staggeringly large. On Saint Francis Day, though, Ralph brought more human-scaled puppets to the Cathedral. His puppet animals roamed with real ones through our gardens, delighting children and even their parents, and maybe even frightening them just a bit.

Over the years on Saint Francis Day, the lucky visitor has seen Ralph himself among his creations: a quiet, humble, and truly lovely man. For someone so accomplished, Ralph was entirely without presumption. He loved his craft, he loved seeing people’s delight and awe in the face of it, and he loved the Cathedral.

The love was mutual. Ralph embodied so much of what this great institution stands for. He was an artist and a dreamer. He worked to enrich the life of the people he passed on the street, not just people of prestige and means. He sought the good of this great city, and in doing so, he became part of its fabric.

I have no idea what Ralph’s religious convictions were. We never talked about it. In Ralph, though, shone goodness, honesty, and beauty. We Christians would say that all of that was a reflection of God. We at the Cathedral give thanks to God for the time Ralph was part of our life, and we trust that God will now enfold him more and more in a love without limit and a life without end.

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