Martta Wendelin (1893-1986) is one of the most famous illustrators in Finland. She was born in 1893 in the harbour town of Kotka and she died in Tuusula in 1986. She had a long career, and is best known for her illustrations of the Finnish countryside, children and family life in children’s books, postcards and magazines. In the 1930s and ‘40s her idyllic, family-centred views spread to almost every home in Finland through the covers of Kotiliesi magazine. The popularization of her pictures with families was further helped due to the scarce availability of pictures at the time.
Martta Wendelin was born to a sawmill operator’s family of eight. In 1910 the family moved to Helsinki where Wendelin and her older brother Oiva started their studies at the University. Between 1910 to 1916 she studied at the University’s Drawing School under the tutorship of Eero Järnefelt, one of the masters of the Golden Age in Finnish Art. Following that she received a scholarship for two more years (1914−1916). After completing her studies she searched for her place in life. She worked on illustrations for a children’s book for a variety of publishers. In January 1919 the Werner Söderström Publishing Company employed her as an illustrator in Porvoo working under Akseli Gallen-Kallela, another master of the Golden Age. It was during those years that she learnt the art of illustrating books.
In 1925 Wendelin became a freelance illustrator and started to work for other publishing companies. It was around this time that she moved to Helsinki. Her first covers for Kotiliesi Magazine were published in 1923 and she went on to make many postcard illustrations, becoming particularly famous for her Christmas cards. To date, the reprints of her postcards are still extremely popular.
In 1927 Wendelin went abroad for the first time, traveling to Italy where she painted many important landscapes in both Rome and Sicily. The 1930s was an industrious time for her, working with oils, pastels and watercolours. She participated in art exhibitions receiving some positive acclaim. It was during this time that she made trips to Carelia, in the then eastern part of Finland. Like the old masters Gallen-Kallela and Järnefelt before her, Wendelin was inspired by its beautiful landscape and people. In 1937 she moved to Tuusula first to take care of her health in the Syväranta boarding house. Next spring she rented the beautiful villa Suopelto, close to other artists’ homes near the Tuusula lake. She lived there for about 10 years until her own home Annivaara was constructed in 1947. It was exceptional at the time, for an unmarried woman to build a home for herself with her own income. She lived there with her foster-daughter Helena and her old mother who died the same year the house was finished.
Martta Wendelin took good care in preserving her art. In 1977 she donated her original illustrations from the Otava and Werner Söderström publishing companies to the Tuusula Municipality. This donation of 2 000 illustrations was preserved in 1982 in the Hyrylä Library building (today known as the Kasarmi Art Center). Today, her donation and archives make up the core of the collection of illustrative art at the Tuusula Art Museum. The Erkkola Artist Home by the Tuusula Lake Road is the place where the Tuusula Art Museum organizes exhibitions of illustrative art. Some of Martta Wendelin’s work can also be see in the small permanent exhibition on display in the Martta Chamber at the Kasarmi Art Center.