Marja Vallila was born in Prague, Czech Republic in 1950. Her father was the Finnish Ambassador to Switzerland and the family split their time between the Czech Republic, and Geneva where her father sometimes worked. She grew up trilingual, speaking Czech, Finnish and French. She emigrated to the US with her mother and brother as a child and became a citizen in 1964. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be a sculptor. After attending Hampshire, Amherst and Smith colleges, she received her MFA from Cornell in 1975.  She taught art at Marlboro College, Cornell and Bard College until 1981 when she was offered a tenure-track position at the University at Albany in New York. Shortly after starting as a professor at the University at Albany, she and her husband and sculptor, Jim Buchman had a daughter named Petra in 1982. Marja’s early sculpture were made from cast iron or welded steel. She showed regularly throughout her career in New York City galleries. Her work is part of several public collections including at the Newark Museum in New Jersey. Her later work consisted of slip cast ceramic pieces that were glazed in bright colors. Her last show was in 2006 at the Zabriskie Gallery where a series of paper reliefs were on display. Marja was diagnosed with early onset frontal lobe dementia in 2004. She continued to work in the studio until 2006 when she moved to an assisted living facility. While in the facility in Brooklyn, New York, she continued to make pen and ink drawings until 2008.