Artist Profile: Natalia Koshelkova, Illustrator

Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson March 15, 2015 16:49


This profile was part of a five-article feature called “The Age of Creativity” that appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Friends and Neighbors Magazine.  Featured artists shared how they found their artistic calling, the challenges and rewards of their art, and their advice to other boomers and seniors ready to explore creative callings.  For FAN’s listing of creativity resources in the foothills, see Creative Outlets: Art Classes, Writing Groups & Much More.

“I am an artist,” says Natalia Koshelkova, a strong Russian accent flavoring her words. “Art is my life.”

The Sonora woman, known to friends as Natasha, pauses a moment, searching for and then finding a way to explain her passion in English. “For me, art is an emotional vehicle,” she says. “Whatever I am feeling is expressed through my art.”

Koshelkova’s favorite mediums are watercolor, pastels, colored pencils, etching and lithography, and she uses them to capture subjects ranging from buildings and landscapes to people and animals. Her work has been shown locally and internationally and is in permanent collections in England, France, Russia and Armenia. The State Russian Museum permanently placed 12 pieces into collection in 1995, and after a 2013 one-woman show in St. Petersburg, added five more.

Born in Leningrad nine months after the fall of the Third Reich, Koshelkova never knew her father, a Russian soldier who died of war wounds a few months after she was born.

“I was a very mischievous child until my mother noticed I was quiet only when drawing,” says Koshelkova. Once given colored pencils, however, she would spend hours drawing the world around her.

At age 7, she joined a special drawing group that prepared her for enrollment six years later at Demidov College of Graphic Art and Teacher Training in Leningrad. There she took art lessons along with a general academic curriculum.

For two years after Demidov, she taught art to students in a Leningrad high school, then taught evening classes while she drew on her own and studied architecture. Her life and her art found a new direction when she met and married her first husband, Nicholas.

“As a child in the Soviet Union I was not religious,” she says, “but Nicholas’ family was. I noticed icons around his house and asked about them.”

She began painting pictures of those icons along with churches and monasteries in Leningrad and Moscow. Not only that, but she became a devout Christian in a country that forbade open study of the Bible but was surprisingly tolerant of Christians.

“All my paintings are religious in the sense that God created the subjects,” she explains. “Whatever I paint – a bridge, a scene in Yosemite, my mother – all are honoring God because he created them all.”

During a 1988 visit to a family friend in the United States, Koshelkova met and was influenced by Metropolitan Hilarion, later named First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. From foothill connections made during that trip, she returned to America in 1991 and has lived in Tuolumne County ever since.

Here she has shared her passion with students in charter schools, during summer sessions at Columbia College and through private lessons. Koshelkova, who came to the U.S. “with nothing” and lives on a small fixed income, advises students to “major in art but minor in something practical.”

For her, art has never been about money but about “passion.” And at 68, she continues to find creative outlets.  “I still need to express my admiration for nature, for beauty.”

Book-CoverWorking feverishly before and after hip-replacement surgery in June, she finished a children’s book that has been a 41-year labor of love. Geese-swans is a fairy tale that features Koshelkova’s lithographs etched from watercolors she painted in the early 1970s.

The illustrations accompany her adaptation of the Russian folktale by A.N. Afanasyev, a popular 19th- century folklorist thought of as the Russian counterpart to the Brothers Grimm. Each lithograph is matched to one of Natasha’s favorite Old Testament psalms.

She is selling copies of her book locally but seldom sells her artwork. Friends have urged her to put prices on the pieces listed on her website,, but so far she is more focused on what the future holds – her next art project, whatever that might be.

“I would like to make another children’s book devoted to nature,” she says, “a book that would include English translations of my poems, with watercolors to accompany them.”

Her advice to others who want to explore their own creativity at any age?

“Go the way that God gave you talent,” she says. “My life taught me this.”

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson March 15, 2015 16:49
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