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Friday Street Farm


farmed in kent

Elena Priestley

Katie`s drawing                selfportrait
Elena`s portrait by Katie Showell aged 10.                                                                    Selfportrait

Elena was born in USSR in Yoshkar-Ola, the capital of Mari-El Republik of Russian Federation.

Elena`s childhood in Soviet Russia was typical for the generation of the 1960s. She was placed in a nursery from the age of one, and from there was transferred with everyone else to the kindergarten, where she really loved drawing and music classes.  According to the fashion of Russian parents at that time, Elena was sent to music school, where she started to attend piano lessons and sang in a choir at the age of 8. While Elena's parents were looking for a piano to buy, Elena was practicing on the keyboard of her father`s accordion.

Elena was a passionate collector of postage stamps, postcards, photographs of famous soviet actors and books about Vladimir Lenin and his images. When her class started to learn biology, she attempted to collect butterflies, but did not enjoy the cruelty to the insects, so the hobby was quickly forgotten.

As Elena suffered from pneumonia and colds for several weeks every year, she had substantial time to read extensively. Her favourites at all times were folk fairy tales and tales by russian writers Bajov, Saltikov-Shedrin, Aleksey Tosltoy, Paustovskiy, Chukovskiy, Fadeeva and Smirnov, and of course Hans Christian Andersen. She loved beautiful books illustrated  by Libico Maraja.

During the times Elena was ill her grandmother stayed with her and taught her a lot of 'girly things' like knitting, sewing and embroidery. Grandmother Maria could do anything so perfectly! When Maria was a little girl, she was studying at a private school, where she learnt French, but after the Great October Revolution in 1917 she couldn`t study there any more. During the Second World War, Grandmother Maria brought up 5 children by herself, as well as sewing and doing embroidery for other people. She was also knitting socks, mittens and hats to sell at the market. And what a great pastry specialist she was! Every Sunday the entire family visited her flat to enjoy the shiny, aromatic and tasty pies that came out of her brick stove. Before every Easter Babushka prepared a big bucket of spicy dough,  so every member of the family could enjoy sweet, yellow fluffy Kulichs for the whole Easter week.

Elena's parents worked as engineers at a large regional military plant, which enabled them to take their only daughter to the Black Sea on holiday every year to improve her health. Visiting new places of historic and cultural interest each year resulted in Elena's passion for travel, hiking and swimming in the sea. 

Since primary school, Elena had piano lessons, however after five years of tuition Elena realised that she would prefer to concentrate upon drawing, so she subsequently started attending art school. The atmosphere there was relaxed, however children were expected to work with great diligence. At sixteen, Elena continued her education at the Yoshkar-Ola art college and at twenty-two continued her further studies at the Kharkov Art and Industrial Institute in Ukraine.

family, Yoshkar-Ola
Grandmother Maria (in the middle) with her daughters and their families.

Kharkov, New Year
Kharkov, 1986, party at Constantine Mitin`s place.

Elena with the group of students and teachers in DDR, 1985 
Elena with the group of students and teachers from Kharkov Academy of Design in DDR 1985

Elena Priestley 
Yoshkar-Ola, Russia, 1987

Elena's twelve years of studies in art and design were an exceptionally happy time for her, and gave her a qualification in teaching Art and a Diploma Certificate in Industrial Design. After successful graduation, Elena got married in Kharkov to a very talented classmate from her course, with whom she had a son and a daughter. This marriage lasted ten years. During this ten year period Elena was principally involved in illustrating children's books in Kharkov and Yoshkar-Ola, and subsequently gained employment in a newly established advertising agency in Yoshkar-Ola. She needed to rapidly acquire new skills using computers, which had just become available in Russia. Elena found it quite scary to use a mouse for the first time!

with parents
: Elena has 2 children: son Ilya (who is married to the russian girl Anastasia) and daughter Maria.

Ilya and Anstasia         Mary 

For the following ten years, Elena frequently changed her employers, as there were many offers and challenges that she could not resist. Elena developed a high level of knowledge and proficiency in advertising, marketing and graphic design, and became very familiar with Photoshop, CorelDraw and Illustrator. After five years working for the local branch of the Moscow based newspaper 'Moscovskiy Komsomoletz' Elena was able to design more than twenty adverts within one working day. She enjoyed working collaboratively with journalists in such a creative and challenging environment. During the very cold winter months, when temperatures can descend to beyond minus twenty-five degrees below zero, there were occasionally problems with the office's old heating system, and at such times it was necessary to 'warm up' using Russian methods, namely by drinking tea and even vodka!

After the ending of her first marriage, Elena and her two children lived for ten years with her parents. In common with many Russian women, Elena had not given up on the idea of finding her 'Mr Right', and consequently had decided to use a marriage agency in Yoshkar-Ola, particularly as she was sure that it was unlikely she would find the kind of man she wanted in her town. Unfortunately, the 'match' that appeared via the agency - a Canadian man - turned out to be a bitter disappointment, and after a picture-book marriage in Russia, her husband returned to Canada and completely vanished from the scene.

                                                                                       wedding photo

As a result of this horrible experience, Elena spent several months in total despair, and was becoming ill with worries about the future, also exacerbated by the precarious economic conditions in Russia at the time. Elena's employers frequently failed to pay her salary on time, and on occasions, she as well as her colleagues had to go to the office management and beg for payment.  

Parallel to all these events, Elena was trying to keep herself afloat by creating a colouring picture book for Russian primary school children, learning english. Elena needed to translate certain concepts into english, in connection with providing accurate vocabulary for the seasons. Elena had been told that the english word 'autumn' was no longer in common usage, and had been replaced by the american word 'fall.' Elena was not entirely happy with this advice, and sought to check this further, and in so doing, by pure accident, she stumbled across an English man called Stephen, who was working in Willmar, Minnesota, USA. Stephen received Elena's linguistic question as an attachment, without knowing the identity of the person asking it. He rapidly wrote a long and defiant reply in defence of the English word 'autumn' and proceeded on a long ramble about the sanctity of 'englishness.' Elena was mystified by the tone of his reply, and was able to ask further questions. At first the email exchange was light and good-humoured, but the emails then became more frequent, serious and searching. Stephen, being a naturally very curious person, wanted to delve into all the details of Elena's circumstances, including a first-hand visit to Russia!  

before wedding with Stephen 
Ilya, Stephen`s Mother Elena, Stephen, Elena, Mary and Klaus - Stephen`s friend in Yoshkar-Ola, February 2003.

.Sixth months following the first meeting, Elena and Stephen were married, in Yoshkar-Ola. Elena and her two children came to Minnesota three months after the wedding - following the successful navigation of huge amounts of American immigration red tape. 

                          Mary`s Birthday
                                                                                        Celebrating Mary`s Birthday in Willmar.

For Elena, to come from Russia with her children to live in the USA, on the opposite side of the world, was a daunting prospect. The USA had always been 'demonised' in Russia as a 'capitalist country', and alien to Soviet values.  

Elena soon realised that life in Willmar, Minnesota, was very different to how she had imagined it would be: the people were exceptionally generous and friendly, and welcomed her and the children with open hearts to their new community, and made her feel special from the first moment. Elena also loved the lakes and forests around Willmar, and the rich cultural life and possibilities which were available in a relatively small american town. 

Elena felt very inspired by her new surroundings, and this period resulted in many fine paintings, of landscapes, still lifes and portraits. Elena's art was greatly appreciated by new friends and acquaintances. In addition to her painting activity, Elena illustrated a children's book called 'I am a little raindrop' by a local poet. Elena greatly enjoyed this experience. 


In May, 2004, the family moved to Folkestone, Kent. Stephen got a new job, and Elena's children continued their education. 

                   With Elizabeth Leonskaja in Glyndebourne      

On the photo: Peter Sipos, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Elena & Stephen Priestley in Glyndebourne. 

                                    The Grand

 For the last eight years, Elena has worked on a large variety of projects, including graphic design work at 'The Grand' in Folkestone, painting a number of large murals and portraits for Briony Kapoor in New Romney, and most recently has completed the illustrations for the first of a series of children's books by Paul Franklin, called 'Where is Happiness Found?' Elena also is a freelance art teacher, and has completed a number of portrait commissions. Elena has entered several local and national art competitions. In 2012 the artist submitted 2 paintings at 34 Salon D`ART in Paris and was presented with the Gold Medal.


Salon ADAC 2012, Saint-Germain-les-Corbeil, Peinture 
medal, paris

Elena hopes to continue to establish herself as an artist and illustrator.   



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