Eric O. W. Ehrström’s sketch for the life saving medal 


Serlachius Museum’s collections comprise a sketch for a life saving medal that artist Eric O. W. Ehrström designed during the first years of Finland’s independency. The original form of the medal is still in use.

The regulation on life saving medal was adopted in November 1920. The medal is awarded in a recognition of a deed that has been extremely courageous or resourceful or while risking ones’ own life, and which has resulted in saving another person’s life from danger. 

The sketches for the medal, as well as 4000 other sketches and art pieces were bequeathed for the Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation’s collection in the Ehrström couple’s legacy in the 1930s. At that time, Ehrström had only recently designed the emblems of the Republic including the heraldic lion which he applied on the back of the medal. 

On the medal, a hand holding the flame of life is surrounded by a bay leaf wreath. On the back side, a text in Finnish: ”for saving a human life” and in Swedish: ”för räddning av människoliv” form a circle which surrounds the heraldic lion and heraldic roses of which the artist has created a well-balanced composition. This implies that the medal is an official one, awarded by the state. It is accompanied by a citation certificate. 

The medal is made of silver with a diameter of three centimetres and it is carried on a Finnish-flag-blue ribbon which has white stripes. Earlier it was carried in front of other medals on the left side of the chest but the regulation was changed in 2011 so that it is attached on the chest on the left side like any awarded decoration – order of the medals depends on what other marks of honour the person is carrying. 

Award criteria of the life saving medal are strict, and they have become even more strict over time. A proposal for a medal recipient will be made to the Regional Authority in whose jurisdiction the event has taken place. The proposals will be processed by a board of five members appointed by the Republic’s President for a period of four years. The board delivers its resolutions to the Ministry of Interior. The minister of Interior then makes the recommendations of the awardees to the President of Finland. In 2020, the President has awarded 10 life saving medals, the Life saving Board processed altogether 119 proposals of which it supported ten.

President Ståhlberg awarded the first life saving medals during the same month when the regulation was adopted. Newspapers sometimes have published small news items of recipients and sometimes also contained more detailed descriptions of the events. In 1923, a scout magazine Waasan partiolainen presented three scout girls and their leader in picture under the headline “A beautiful lifesaving. Three scout girls saved two boys from drowning.” At the risk of their own lives, the scout girls had saved boys who had been paddling on an ice floe and ended up in the sea. 

Helena Hänninen

Asetus hengenpelastusmitalista (Regulation on the life saving medal)  284/1920, 12.11.1920; 146/2011, 18.2.2011

Eric O. W. Ehrström's sketch for a life saving medal. Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation.
Eric O. W. Ehrström’s sketch for a life saving medal. Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation.
Front side of the life saving medal. Image: Bukowskis.
Back side of the life saving medal. Image: Bukowskis