Born in 1899 in Helsinki, Finland, Maija Grotell attended the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, where she completed six years of graduate school. There she trained in European methods of ceramic production, especially on the wheel. Upon arriving in the United States, Grotell worked with Charles Fergus Binns at Alfred University. Binns and Grotell clashed over ceramics pedagogy and construction methods. Grotell, along with Marguerite Wildenhain and Gertrud Natzler, is among a key contingent of European émigré women who taught wheel-throwing techniques to students in the United States. Hired by the Cranbrook Academy of Art outside of Detroit, Michigan, Grotell ran the ceramics program there from 1938 through 1966, with Howard Kottler and Toshiko Takaezu among her students.