Stepan Erzya is a man who did not break the axe

Stepan Erzya at work.
Stepan Erzya at work.

Stepan Erzya is a man who did not break the axe. Biography of the sculptor

Stepan Erzya is not like most sculptors who use stone or metal as a material. Erzya preferred to turn wood into sculpture.

Stepan Erzya, a famous Russian sculptor, was born in 1876 in the village of Bayevo, then still in the Simbirsk province. His real name is Stepan Dmitrievich Nefedov, but he entered the history of art under the pseudonym “Erzya,” taken from the name of the Mordovian nation of the same name to which he belonged. One of the sculptor’s teachers was Konstantin Korovin (whose painting “Veranda” recently went at auction for 560 thousand euros).

Sculpture Marta, 1912.
Sculpture Marta, 1912.

The first international success came to the sculptor in 1909 – in Venice.

There he presented the work “The Last Night Before the Execution” (which, unfortunately, was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War). Afterwards, Erzya left for Paris, but in 1914 he returned to Russia again.

The year 1927, the year of emigration to South America, can be called significant in the life of the sculptor. It was there, in Argentina, that he found “his” material – kebracho. This tree is incredibly hard; literally, “quebracho” translates as “break the axe.” But Erzya found an approach to kebracho and managed to make friends with the material.

Sculpture portraits of ballerina Sofia Fedorova, 1915.
Sculpture portraits of ballerina Sofia Fedorova, 1915.

The sculptor’s relationship with the authorities was also difficult. Inspired by the Revolution, he soon encountered its negative aspects – material difficulties and the demands of the new government to create what “will be beneficial in building a new world.” In addition, the futurists, who were then in favor, did not approve of Erzya’s work. All this led to a forced move to South America.

Many of the sculptor’s works are dedicated to the Erzya people; female images also occupy a special niche in his work.

STEPAN ERZYA. STATUE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST. CAST OF AUGUSTO GIUFREDI AND SIMONE VIZZONI. 2011.
STEPAN ERZYA. STATUE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST. CAST OF AUGUSTO GIUFREDI AND SIMONE VIZZONI. 2011.

Erzya’s diaries and correspondence clearly show his longing for his homeland, where he was able to return only in 1951 – eight years before his death. “The Conqueror of Quebracho,” as the Argentine press called Erzya, left a great creative legacy.

The main collection of his works is located in Saransk, the rest are scattered in museums around the world and private collections.

STEPAN ERZYA. PORTRAIT OF VASILY'S NEPHEW. CAST OF ALEXANDER TOLOKIN. 2010.
STEPAN ERZYA. PORTRAIT OF VASILY’S NEPHEW. CAST OF ALEXANDER TOLOKIN. 2010.
STEPAN ERZYA. PORTRAIT OF HORACIO QUIROGA. CAST OF ALEXANDER TOLOKIN. 2013.
STEPAN ERZYA. PORTRAIT OF HORACIO QUIROGA. CAST OF ALEXANDER TOLOKIN. 2013.
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