It is with great sadness that we inform you that Elena Oskarovna Marttila (1923 – 2022) passed away on Saturday 25 June in Kotka, Finland. She was 99 years old. In her later years she lived in her flat/studio in Kotka with little external support from her neighbours. Elena aspired to remain self-reliant and avoid creating any “unnecessary troubles” to anyone until her last days. She said: “Dependence is the most dreadful thing in life. It is worse than illness”.
In addition to being an outstanding graphic artist, with a distinctive style and depth of expression evident in her Leningrad and Leningraders series (which was dedicated to the siege of Leningrad), Elena was an amazing woman with a range of qualities many of us can only aspire to. She was an extremely hard-working, honest, and self-disciplined person, placing no bets on luck or looking for favours, whilst only believing in herself and having the assurance that “what comes with difficulty is meant to stay with us for longer”. Having had a hard childhood – Elena was raised by her mother, who worked full-time and had no help looking after her young daughter – Elena learnt to be independent from her early days and found an escape in drawing, which mesmerised and inspired her throughout her life.
She loved people and was always generous with her time. Elena would give help to anyone in need, be it amid the deadly winter during the siege of Leningrad – when she, a 19-year-old girl of fragile health, cared for her mother and neighbours – or in the post-war years, when she helped her friends and mentored her art students. “People are all very good if they are not compared with each other”, she used to say with a smile.
Compassion and trust were at the core of her beliefs in humanity: “Empathy, a good opinion of each other, is a necessity, a physiological need. It is hard to live without it… It is important to trust. Everyone has the right to trust and be trusted”.
Elena Marttila always stayed true to her principles. Her long and eventful life story is proof of that. Her legacy as an artist and a human being will live on, continuing to encourage and inspire for generations to come.
With Elena’s departure we seem to be closing the door on our living connections to that incredible wartime generation that we were privileged to know personally. Let us keep their memory alive and learn from their wisdom – where love for humanity and peace are the cornerstones of our life and future.
A deep bow and blessed memory to you, dear Elena Oskarovna!
Some of you might remember the exhibition “Elena Marttila: Art and Endurance in the Siege of Leningrad” at Darwin College, Cambridge in 2017, which was organised and curated by Libby Howie and Ksenia Afonina with advice from the late John Barber (1944 – 2021), who passed away last June.