Alfred A. Sessler Biography

Alfred A. Sessler




Alfred Abraham Sessler was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on January 14, 1909. As a youth he began drawing cartoons. By the time he entered the Layton School of Art in the 1930s, the Depression had begun to have an impact on his work; he often depicted people struggling for survival.  “I have always been a fighter for the underdog,” he said.  Sessler worked for the Treasury Relief Art Project from 1935-37 and then for the Federal Art Project from 1937-42. He graduated from Milwaukee State Teacher’s College in 1944 with a B.S.. Sessler earned his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1945 and joined the Art Department as an instructor where he established UW’s groundbreaking graphics program. He remained at the University of Wisconsin, becoming a full professor in 1956.

Sessler was employed by the Treasury Art Project from 1935 to 1937 and by the Federal Art Project from 1937 to 1942. He created murals in U.S. Post Offices in Lowell, Michigan, and Morris, Minnesota as a member of these project teams. Sessler was considered an active exhibitor who often sent his prints to competitions and print shows. From 1931 when he had his first one-man show at Milwaukee State Teacher’s college until his death in 1963, he exhibited in numerous invitationals and national exhibitions, receiving many purchase awards. Sessler’s works have been represented in institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Library of Congress.

Although Sessler’s early works in the
1930’s were in painting and drawing, he ultimately became most well known for his lithographs, etchings, and woodcuts. He was inspired by images of Milwaukee day laborers and often did caricatures of faces and figures.
His innovative graphics program and his reputation as a printmaker gave U.W. Madison its continuing position of leadership in the field of printmaking, making it one of the largest and most progressive in the country.  Sessler drew upon the sad and slightly comic in human nature and developed a style of biomorphic abstraction. A former student remembers Sessler as a dedicated and caring teacher who promoted printmaking in his studio classes at the University of Wisconsin. He is considered the inventor of the color "reduction process" for creating relief prints.

Alfred A. Sessler died in Madison, Wisconsin on September 16, 1963.