Founder and President of Erzia International Art Foundation
The art of the outstanding sculptor, Stepan Dmitrievich Nefyodov-Erzia (1876-1959), can rightfully be considered as one of the brightest pages in the history of Russian and world culture. It stands the competition with the art of the most famous European and American masters of the 20th century – Rodin, Maillol, Bourdelle, Mestrovic, Brancusi, Konenkov and Golubkina. After the sculptor’s death a museum was founded at his birthplace, the capital of Mordovia Saransk, and now it has the largest collection of his works. However, the name of Erzia has not yet been written into the history of world culture of the 20th century.
Stepan Nefyodov (Erzia), born 8 November (N.S.) 1876, in the village of Bayevo, Ardatov District, Simbirsk Province, in the family of the Mordovin Erzyan peasant, later became an apprentice of the Russian sculpture school. He lived and successfully worked not only in Russia, but also in Italy, France, Azerbaijan, Adzharia, South America. Only from Argentina the sculptor brought about 300 works to his homeland, but quite a few of his creations are still abroad. Whereabouts and fate of many of his sculptures are unknown as remain unknown many facts of the master’s artistic biography as well.
Contemporaries called Stepan Erzia “Russian Rodin» and “Russian Michelangelo”, he has undoubtedly made a significant contribution into the world art of the 20th century, but unfortunately he has neither received proper evaluation nor determined his own place in modern national art. The sculptor’s name has long ago become the flagship of native culture for Finno-Ugric people – Mordva, and is now awaiting advancement to the universal level.
There were good reasons to establish an international foundation dedicated to S. Erzia in Moscow. Erzia’s life was closely connected with this city. As a young boy, he dreamed of coming to Moscow and learning the secrets of high art. He studied in Moscow, here he recognized himself as a national sculptor, by signing his work with the name of “Erzia”, taking it from his native people – Mordva-Erzya. Here he met his favorite student and subsequently faithful companion, Elena Mroz, it is from here that he time and again left for remote cities and countries. It is to Moscow that he always returned after long years spent in foreign lands. Moscow is the city where the unforgettable exhibition of his outstanding works took place in 1954. Here he received the high evaluation for his work – the Order of the Red Banner of Labor. Here, at the age of 83, the sculptor passed away to Eternity.
Not only happy, but also tragic pages of Erzia’s life are related to Moscow. Here, after his return from Argentina he spent the last nine years of his life, filled with disappointment, resentment and bitterness of frustrated hopes. The meeting with his homeland at the end of his life turned out to be not so warm and bright as the aging sculptor had dreamed of for many years. Here, in Moscow, Erzia had to endure many humiliations and disasters, persecution by the authorities and envy of his fellow artists. However, he continued to love this city, and only here he saw the future of his art – in his museum, which officials promised to open for him in Moscow. The establishment of his personal museum in Moscow was the main reason and condition for Erzia’s return to the USSR. Well aware of his status and the level of his works, the master rightly thought that his art’s place was in the capital where his contemporaries, Konenkov and Golubkina, worked in their studios. Like Erzia, they came “from upcountry” and subsequently reached the peak in their art, and their memorial museums were opened here after their demise.
Strange as it might sound but Moscow still has no place, where one could learn about this amazing artist or see his works. So, it is here that the revival of Stepan Erzia’s name should start, it is here that the historical injustice done to the great master during the Soviet period should be remedied. Moscow is still indebted to Erzia!
Moscow is the largest cultural center in the world with great financial and informational opportunities for implementation of international artistic projects. Otherwise, it would be impossible for the last “mohican” of the 20th century world sculpture to return from the long-standing oblivion.
Therefore, our Foundation’s mission is to establish an international cultural institution in the Russian capital that could effectively coordinate promotion of S. Erzia universal artistic legacy, acquaint the public with the works by his apprentices and fellow artists, carry out partner projects in Russia and abroad, hold international conferences, festivals and exhibitions of Russian and foreign artists, open a specialized children art school, which would continue the centuries-old traditions of Russian wood carving art.