Elena Oskarovna Marttila (born 1923)
Elena Oskarovna Marttila was born on 6th January 1923 in Petrograd. Her father Oskar Antonovich Marttila – a cadet of a military college – was born in the Finnish town of Kotka. Her mother Evdokiya Vasilyevna was a factory worker.
She started painting from an early age when her father bought her first set of paints. In 1934 she took part in the 1st All-Russian competition for young talents and entered the secondary Art School at the All-Russian Academy of Arts in Leningrad. In 1937 Oskar Antnovich Marttila was arrested. He was later acquitted posthumously.
On 20th June 1941 she graduated from the Art school at the All-Russian Academy of Arts in Leningrad. After the Great Patriotic War had been declared, along with other girls from her school, she joined the Red Cross classes for nurses. Upon their completion, however, she was not allowed to go to the front due to her ill health. Instead she enrolled at the Leningrad Art School named after S.V. Serov.
During the siege of Leningrad, she worked as a medical orderly, a nurse at the children hospital named after N.K.Krupskaya, helped to evacuate children and continued to study and practice drawing. This saved her from death in the hardest winter of the siege in 1941-1942. Elena created a series of sketches during that winter.
In April 1942 she and her mother evacuated to Mordovia. Elena worked on a farm, plowing, cutting wood and caring for her shell-shocked mother. At the first opportunity Elena and Evdokia Vasilyevna returned to Leningrad, back to their home – a room at Vasilyevsky Island and recommenced studies at the Leningrad Art College.
After the end of war in 1948 Elena graduated with honours from the Leningrad Art College named after V.Serov and entered the faculty of graphic art at the Leningrad Academy of Arts. However, she decided to give up her studies and to go to work instead as she had to support her family. She worked designing posters, as a theatre decorator, staging performances for a puppet theatre at the Palace of Pioneers, teaching at the Leningrad Art College named after S.V. Serov, Pedagogical Institute named after A.I. Herzen and at the art studio at the Polytechnic Institute named after M.I. Kalinin.
In 1964, Elena took part in the World Festival of Puppet theatres “UNIMA” in Leningrad. She became an author and designer of over 50 theatre and puppet shows where she acted as director and/or stage and costume designer. During these years, she had been searching for the most suitable media to revive her drawings created in the besieged Leningrad. She explored the technique of etching on cardboard and decided it was the most appropriate media – combination of graphic art and painting – to recreate her wartime drawings. Elena created a series of works based on her sketches and memories of the siege.
In 1978 Elena retired from teaching, but continued to paint and revisit the theme of the siege.
In 1981 Elena was accepted as a member of the Artists Union of the USSR. Her works were exhibited in Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain, Finland.
In 1996 after her major exhibition in Finland, Elena was invited to work there. She returned to watercolour painting and tried new techniques: watercolour monotype. She worked between St. Petersburg and Kotka.
In recent years, due to health reasons, she spends most of the time in Finland, but keeps returning to her native St. Petersburg at every opportunity. Elena Marttila took part in over 130 art exhibitions, including 25 solo shows.
Her works form part of national collections at several art museums in St. Petersburg, including the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg and the Russian Museum among others; as well as private collections in Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, UK and USA.
Items from personal archives of Elena Marttila: