Alessandro Mastro-Valerio was a highly regarded painter and watercolorist prior to the start of his printmaking career in 1930. Although best known for his mezzotints, which won him many awards, he worked in drypoint, etching aquatint, wood engraving, and experimented with continuous bite and sugar lift aquatints. He was a member of The Chicago Society of Etchers, which published the print, “Morning Paper”; The American Miniature Print Collectors Society; and The Woodcut Society of America. In 1949 he won the Cannon prize from the National Academy of Design for the abstract aquatint, “Motif in a Seascape”, and was elected as associate in 1951.
Alessandro Mastro- Valerio was born in Sannicandro Garcanico, Province of Foggia, Italy on July 25, 1887. He turned down a chance to study in the United States, attending instead the Salvator Rosa Art Institute in Naples from 1906 to 1912. While there, he won a traveling scholarship to study in art schools around Italy. In 1913 he arrived in Chicago where his brother and uncle, editor of an Italian newspaper, lived. After establishing himself as a commercial artist, he opened a portrait studio near the “Loop” and painted portraits of the elite in the Chicago area.
In 1919 he visited Ypsilanti, Michigan. He liked the quiet atmosphere of the small midwestern town and decided to stay. While establishing himself in Ypsilanti, he continued to accept portrait commissions from his Chicago clientele. In 1920 Mastro-Valerio was retained to paint a mural entitled “Progress” for the remodeled Ypsilanti National Bank. The mural, which is still hanging in the bank, gave him a name in Ypsilanti and brought him many portrait commissions. In the summer of 1922 he began teaching summer classes at Michigan State Normal College now Eastern Michigan University. In 1924 he married Nola Ellen Manchester and was asked to join the staff of the University of Michigan as a part-time instructor in the drawing and painting department. Shortly thereafter, anticipating the birth of their first daughter, Nola and Alessandro left for Italy to visit family. He returned in September of 1927 after being asked to join the staff of the institution becoming a professor in 1952. He died shortly after being diagnosed with cancer in Ann Arbor on July 16, 1953.
Dr. Warren Lombard, a friend of Alessandro Mastro-Valerio, was instrumental in getting him started in printmaking in 1930. His skill with the human anatomy and his outstanding drawing ability are apparent even in his earliest prints. During the twenty-two years that he produced prints, the primary source for his inspiration was the female nude. From his earliest drypoints to the abstract aquatints of the late 1940s, he explored the female form. His two departures were from 1931-1933 when he produced landscapes and from 1950-1952 when he produced a body of abstract images. These images were pure abstractions created by continuous or single bite aquatints. His first prints were drypoints. He began experimenting with etching and soft ground in a series of views of the Garganico area in Italy and worked briefly in this period with aquatints. During a trip to Chicago to visit the Century of Progress Exhibition in 1933, he saw a display of mezzotint engravings. Deciding that the medium would yield the images he was seeking, he taught himself mezzotint engraving. His first mezzotints were published in 1934. One of his early mezzotints, “Morning” was chosen for Fine Prints of the Year in 1935.