Leo Meissner was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1895 and educated in painting and drawing at the Detroit Fine Art Academy. After serving in World War I, Meissner won a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York, where he studied painting with Robert Henri and George Luks. A 1923 trip to Maine brought the young artist to Monhegan Island for the first time, and he immediately felt a powerful affinity with the island. Meissner returned to Monhegan virtually every year for more than half a century. Although he supported himself in New York, first at Charm magazine and later Motor Boating magazine, he was most closely identified with Monhegan, where he met his wife and eventually owned two matching houses. He retired from magazine work in 1950 to devote his entire artistic effort to his own art– principally wood engraving.
Although Meissner was a fine oil painter and pastellist, it was his mastery of woodcut and wood engraving that made him the notable artist he is today. Completely self-taught in the medium of wood engraving, Meissner was free to experiment and to express through intricate incised lines his sensitive understanding of nature. The relief block prints that Meissner produced to great acclaim were exhibited in virtually every American printmaking exhibition venue.
In his career, Meissner produced more than 150 relief prints which were exhibited in over 60 one-man shows. In 1963 there was a major retrospective which included 72 of his works at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. He took prizes for printmaking at the Library of Congress; Wichita, Kansas; Southern Printmakers; Detroit Institute of Art; as well as many other institutions. Although Monhegan was the center of his artistic life for nearly 50 years, Meissner also created works in Manhattan, in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, and in the Arizona desert.
Meissner established the Leo J. Meissner prize in printmaking at the National Academy of Design for excellence in printmaking. The prize over the last few decades has been awarded to many of the most distinguished living American printmakers. His prints are widely held in American museums, and he was a full academician member of the National Academy of Design and is listed in Who Was Who in American Art.