Born in Detroit, Chaffee studied art and design at Michigan State University where he earned his MFA, with a focus on painting and design. In the 1970’s, Chaffee moved to California where he pursued graduate studies and taught art before embarking on a career in design and editorial art—first at The San Jose Mercury News and later at The Sacramento Bee.
It was after several years, that Chaffee left The Bee to take on painting full-time. Turning to the task of painting presented challenges for Chaffee, not only in subject matter and scale, but also in working with oils, since all of his editorial art was done in pen, ink and watercolor. In moving to figurative painting, Chaffee set himself the task of working away from tight compositions of narrative work towards more abstracted images and backgrounds, and with less articulated figures. Although influenced by several of the Bay Area figurative painters, Chaffee credits Richard Diebenkorn with having a significant impact on his passion and work. It was Diebenkorn’s Sleeping Woman and Yellow Porch that stuck him most forcibly and re-ignited his passion for painting.
Chaffee’s compositions carefully balance simple forms, the gentle contours of the figures, and especially the close tonal values, which give the paintings a restful quality, a quiet dignity.