Ira C Matteson

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1917 - 2017
Artist, Ira Matteson, of Thetford Hills, Vermont, passed away peacefully on Sunday, April 9, 2017, surrounded by his and his wife's art. He died a few months shy of his 100th birthday.

Ira was born in Hamden, Connecticut, in 1917. After finishing high school in Wethersfield, Connecticut, Ira moved to New York City in 1937 to work on Lear airplane radios. Upon learning his job was seasonal an engineer suggested he develop his drawing skills at the Art Students League. Ira studied at the Art Students League over a fifteen year period interrupted by four years in the army. While there he took figure-drawing classes under the instruction of Arthur Lee.

Ira enlisted in the army in 1942 and was stationed in Cinderford, England. He was sent to Germany to dismantle chemical weapon depots in the aftermath of World War II. Upon returning to New York, Ira continued at the Art Students League studying sculpture under William Zorach. Ira also team taught evening drawing classes with Lee at the Greenwich House. In one of those classes Ira met artist Helen Dwyer. The two married in 1952 around the time Ira won the Rome Prize fellowship in sculpture to the American Academy in Rome. They spent the next two years at the Academy where Ira furthered his classical training of figure studies in sculpture and drawing while also perfecting his skills in classic techniques for bronze casting.

Between 1955 and 1964, Ira and Helen's home and studios were in the East Village. He began working for Florentine Craftsmen where he used his casting expertise to make and repair cast bronze garden statuary. In 1958 he was awarded a Yaddo Studio grant and that same year his daughter Abigail was born. In 1962, Ira made sculptures for the first Judson Dance Theater concert in the Village. Inspired by their time in Italy, Helen and Ira moved the family and studios to Italy for two years and lived near both Verona and Florence.

Ira taught art at Kent State University from 1968 to 1988. During this time, and as an Emeritus professor after his retirement, he explored the presence of line and geometry in his sculptures and drawings. From the 1970's to the present day much of Ira's sculpture evolved from his figure drawings made at Kent; his largest metal pieces are located in Akron and Cleveland, Ohio.

He was greatly inspired by the simplicity of the mountains, and in 1994, moved to Thetford, Vermont with Helen. Surrounded by forest and without access to a foundry, Ira used wood as his primary medium. However, he still pursued similar aesthetic goals, emphasizing verticality through grain orientation and directional cuts to abstract form. Helen died in 2011 after 59 years of marriage.

Ira was a regular swimmer at the Dartmouth College pool and loved walking near his house often photographing nature. Other favorites were dark chocolate and classical music. Ira is survived by his daughter Abby Matteson and son-in-law Bruce Ward.
Published on NYTimes.com from May 1 to May 2, 2017
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