Ira Matteson was born in 1917 in Hamden, Connecticut. After finishing high school in Weathersfield, Connecticut, Ira moved to New York City in 1937 to work on airplane radios at Lear Development Company. He soon learned that his job was seasonal and an engineer suggested he could develop his drawing skills at the Art Student League. That first year in NY Ira began studies at the Art Student League that would extend over a fifteen period interrupted by four years in the army. At the Art Student League Ira took figure-drawing classes under the instruction of Arthur Lee (1881-1964). From 1940 to 1942 he was also employed at the Riverside Museum in the Master Apartments (Riverside Dr. and 103rd St.), where he, along with other fellow students, prepared shows that exhibited the collection of Nicholas Roerich, as well as contemporary works and drawings from South America.
Ira enlisted in the army in 1942. Stationed in Cinderford, England, he was sent to Germany to manage chemical weapon depots in the aftermath of World War II. He only drew occasionally before the end of his service in 1946. Upon returning to the United States, Ira continued his studies at the Art Student League studying sculpture under William Zorach from 1946 to 1952. Ira also began team-teaching evening drawing classes with Lee at the Greenwich House. They would alternate with each other between teaching and drawing. His work featured intimate figure and portrait studies. Ira met Helen in a class, and the two were married in 1952.
Ira won the Rome Prize fellowship in sculpture to American Academy in Rome, where he furthered his classical training of figure studies in sculpture, drawing and bronze casting from 1953 to 1955. Ira was fascinated by the work of Marino Marini and Mirko and Afro Basaldella.
Between 1955 and 1964, Ira and Helen lived in New York City, where he continued to draw, sculpt and teach. He began working for Florentine Craftsmen, using his casting expertise to make and repair cast bronze garden statuary. In 1956 and 1960 he won a Louis Comfort Tiffany Sculptors Award. In 1958, he was awarded a Yaddo Studio grant. That year his daughter Abigail was born. In 1962, Ira made sculptures for the first Judson Dance Theater concert in Village. He won a Ford Foundation Purchase that placed a sculpture in the Cleveland Museum of Art collection in 1963.
Helen and Ira sold their house in 1964 and moved the family and studios to Italy for two years, first in Illasi, near Verona, and then Bagno a Ripoli, near Florence. In 1968, he was awarded a Ossabaw Island Project Studio Grant. Between 1967 and the late seventies he regularly showed in New York City at the Sculptor's Guild, Lever House, Annual Exhibitions and with New York City Associated American Artists.
Ira began teaching at Kent State University in 1968, and explored the presence of line and geometry in his sculptures and drawings. He studied the work of Rodin in this period, and was intrigued by Matisse’s use of the plumb line to create the sense of verticality. From the 1970’s to the present day, much of Ira’s sculpture evolved from his figure drawings made at Kent. Ira’s largest metal pieces were made in this period, between 1970 and 1994, and are located in Akron and Cleveland, Ohio. He showed in annual faculty shows at Kent and Ohio artist’s shows at Cleveland Museum of Art and the Akron Art museum.
He was greatly inspired by the simplicity of the mountains, and upon his retirement in 1994, moved to Thetford, Vermont with Helen. Surrounded by forest and without access to a foundry, Matteson began using wood as his primary medium. However, he still pursued similar aesthetic goals, emphasizing verticality through grain orientation and directional cuts to abstract form. His wood works consist of figure reliefs and trees, often carved into with a lathe to create smooth, rounded troughs.