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Eila Hiltunen in front of the Sibelius Monument

Eila as a girl

Eila and Otso Pietinen - wedding picture in 1944

In her studio 1946 - she drew inspiration from ballet for early works

In her studio in 1949 - self-portrait far left

Welding Under Water in 1960


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The sculptor Eila Hiltunen was born on November 22, 1922, in Sortavala, Eastern Finland (now part of Russian Carelia) as the only child of automobile entrepreneur Usko Hiltunen. Her mother Ester, who herself had wished to become an actress, did all to promote her daughter's artistic aspirations, evident at an early age. Often sick and lonely, Eila spent much time reading and modelling clay figurines. But she was also fascinated by the sights in Dad's garage, where she would occasionally savour acid drops from car batteries and once tried to weld metal pieces to impress her friend.

The Hiltunen family enjoyed social esteem and a few prosperous years in Hamina, an architecturally unique garrison town in southeast Finland, until the car business collapsed in the 1929 crash. To see the family's belongings auctioned off and to leave home forever in a wheelbarrow was a traumatic experience for little Eila, at the time suffering from rheumatic fever. And the 1930s brought more insecurity. Usko Hiltunen, suffering from alcoholism and disease, lived mostly alone and died in 1941. By now settled in Helsinki, Ester worked hard in less rewarding jobs to secure Eila's upbringing. They remained very close until Ester's death in 1963.

Eila finished her high school during the war, studied sculpture at The Finnish Art Academy and twice won the top academic prize for sculpture before graduation. In 1943, she met Otso Pietinen, a widowed photographer and army officer six years her senior. They married in 1944, the year she first exhibited her works. Their son Markku was born in 1946 and daughter Piia ten years later.

Eila has always used her maiden name as her artist name. The marriage was occasionally strained by career aspirations, but lasted for almost 50 years, until Otso's death in 1993. He was a leading name in Finnish commercial photography and in the 1960s managed Scandinavia's largest photo studio. Otso's images of Eila's works enhanced the reputation of both.

The couple built a studio house in Helsinki's Munkkiniemi garden suburb in 1956, still Eila Hiltunen's home. Here, her transition from figurative to abstract expression, and from traditional methods to direct welded sculpture came to fruition. On completion of her principal public work, Helsinki's popular Sibelius Monument in 1967, she acquired a dilapidated medieval tower in the small Tuscan village of Monticchiello, midway between Rome and Florence. With her usual vigour, she renovated the Torre as her Italian home and studio. In 1982, she was bestowed with the title of Commendatore for her active contribution to Italian-Finnish cultural exchange.

Sociable and fluent in six languages, Eila Hiltunen met numerous heads of state, politicians, celebrities and famous colleagues during her long career. Her 1970s travels to the Middle East, resulting in major public works in Teheran and Jeddah, combined fairy-tale luxury and adventure in cultures unused to female independence. Until recently, she would travel around in a small sports car she received from the Italian designer Pininfarina in exchange for sculptures in 1966.

Eila Hiltunen, radiant and outspoken, was difficult for decades for Finland's official art establishment to accept. Her status as pioneer modern sculptor, in Finland and abroad, has only been fully acknowledged in recent years. In 2001, she was awarded the prestigious Finlandia art prize. The same year, Finland's President Tarja Halonen was the Patroness of her retrospective exhibition at the Didrichsen Art Museum in Helsinki, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen.

Eila Hiltunen died peacefully at her Helsinki home on October 10, 2003, after a long, crippling illness. She was creative until the very end. With projects in the pipeline, her latest large-scale work was unveiled only recently. During her final months, this petite Grande Dame of Finnish sculpture enjoyed listening to music, drawing sketches and creating exclusive jewellery in shapes one could also envisage in monumental proportions.

Full CV

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The Torre in Monticchiello, Tuscany

Welding Flame of Life in 1972

Meeting H.M. Queen Elizabeth II and H.R.H Prince Philip at the Sibelius Monument in 1976. Helsinki's Lord Mayor Teuvo Aura second left.

In front of Polyphony

Eila Hiltunen at 80.