91-year-old Edinburgh artist who fled Estonia in WW2 gifts paintings to Macmillan Art Show

A 91-year old artist who fled her homeland of Estonia during WW2 has donated three paintings to the Macmillan charity art show taking place this week.

Wednesday, 6th November 2019, 11:45 am
Evi Carmichael.
Evi Carmichael.

Evi Carmichael, who has loved to draw and paint since she was a schoolgirl, hopes the money raised from the sale of her works will help people living with cancer get the support they need.

She was 16 years old when her family was forced to flee her home town of Tallinn in 1944, the day before the Soviet red army arrived in the city.

The family suffered a ‘horrendous journey’ to what is now Gdansk, from whence Evi and her two sisters were sent to Görlitz in Poland.

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Evi Carmichael and the three paintings she has donated.

Evi found work at a factory, but the three sisters went to the local railway station every day, desperate to travel south towards Switzerland.

In February 1945 they managed to get on a train, but the journey was interrupted several times, and at one point the train stopped and all the passengers were forced to get out and lie flat on the ground.

They heard the sound of engines flying overheard, and saw flames light up the sky nearby.

It was only later that Evi realised they had witnessed the bombing of Dresden.

In later life she would call her sisters and two Estonian girls who had also been on the train every year on February 13 to remember their lucky escape from as far away as Australia, Canada and the USA.

Evi spent some time in Konstanz, Germany, and was then sent to Schwenningen, where she worked with an Estonian couple running cabaret shows for French soldiers.

She was able to continue her education at a school in Geislingen, where an Estonian had opened up an art studio in the attic.

She studied with Endel Köks, who later became a well-known artist in Sweden, and sold her first oil painting of pink cyclamen for 20 cigarettes - a fortune for her.

In January 1947 the three sisters went their separate ways - the middle sister to Canada, and Evi and her eldest sister to Britain.

Evi ended up in Edinburgh, and quickly found work at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, just across the street from Edinburgh Art College.

She joined an evening class at the college, unable to pay her way full-time.

“My life instantly became brighter again,” Evi said.

“I had missed my painting and had only been able to sketch in a notebook while moving around.”

After a period working in Inverness, Evi met and married a Scot called John Carmichael, and settled down in Edinburgh for good.

She said: “Living and working in Edinburgh, I was able to paint again. I started an art group at home, which eventually got so big we had to find a venue to hold it.”

To this day, the 91-year-old attends two different art groups in Edinburgh, and has had paintings hung at the Scottish Women Artists’ Exhibition at the RSA in Edinburgh and at the RSW Exhibition.

“Looking back, I feel I have been very lucky to have met so many kind and good people, and my art, has and always will be part of my life, she said.”

The three paintings, ‘Edinburgh’, ‘Crail’, and ‘Plentiful Harvest’, will be on sale as part of the Edinburgh Macmillan Art Show, held from November 7 to 10 at the Apex Hotel on Waterloo Place.