Saara Hopea-Untracht (1925- 1984) While many jewelry designers have made names for themselves in other fields of design, very few have achieved recognition to equal that of Saara Hopea-Untracht. Besides designing jewelry, she created industrial design, glassware, enamels, textiles, and was an active player in the Finnish Arts renaissance.
Born, in Porvoo, a town in Finland east of Helsinki, she was part of a family of goldsmiths and craftspeople whose work could be traced back four generations. As a child, she excelled in art and graduated from the Central School of Applied Arts in 1946 with a degree in interior design.
Jewelry design was not her intended career choice. She first worked as a furniture designer for Majander Oy in Helsinki before moving on to a factory that produced light fixtures and was operated by metalsmith Paavo Tynell. It was here that she met Kaj Franck, a major Finnish designer.
In 1952, Franck hired Saara to assist him designing interiors and furniture for the Arabia-Nuutajärvi showrooms. Hopea soon began designing ceramics for the Arabia factory and glassware for the Nuutajärvi factory.
Proving her multi-disciplinary talents, she produced simple, strong glass in bold colors and functional tableware. Among her trademarks was the combining clear and colored glass with bubbles trapped between them to create unusual effects.
One of her classic designs was the Panther vase or Vase Pantteri. It is a clear thick walled glass vase, with inclusions and either green or purple spots of color. She also made, among other objects, a hors-d’oeuvres tray with multiple bowls joined delicately together in a black glaze.
Hopea won a silver medal at the 1954 Milan Triennales for her stacking tumblers that remained in production until 1968. She won another Milan silver medal in 1957.
When her father died in 1958, Hopea returned to Porvoo and to jewelry design as her father’s death made her essential to keeping the family business afloat. She mastered the art of goldsmithing and worked closely with Karl-Göran Ahlberg, a goldsmith who collaborated with Saara on many of her designs that incorporate silver and enamel.
Between 1961 and 1963, she produced thousands of enamel pieces many of which were sold in exclusive Finnish stores. Among these was the startling silver, gold and enamel “Wing Ring,” that spreads across three fingers and extends both above and below the band to create an extensive jeweled area on the back of the hand.
Saara married the enamellist Oppi Untracht in 1960 and moved to America where she further developed her enamel skills working with her husband. Her work was sold in shops like Potter and Mellen Inc., and Georg Jensen retail outlets.
For several years beginning in 1963, Saara and her husband travelled in Nepal and India returning to Finland in 1967 where she continued her enameling work. She also produced hand-knitted silver chains in the ancient Nepalese tradition to complement her silver pendants. These pendants were ornate silver twin bird motifs holding a garnet “berry” or abstract tubular fans in their beaks.
In the Seventies, Saara mounted antique, engraved semiprecious stones she had collected on her travels into gold brooches and rings sometimes decorated with gold shot. Saara Hopea-Untracht’s designs are stamped “OH” (for the silversmith Ossian Hopea) and the city mark for Porvoo.
When Hopea-Untracht died in 1984, she had been a recipient of the city of Porvoo Culture Prize (1981) and the State Prize of Design (1982). The Museum of Applied Arts in Helsinki held a retrospective exhibition of her work in 1987. Her husband published a book about her life and work in 1988.
A glasswork collection of Saara’s is on display at The Museum of Modern (MOMA). Her works can also be seen worldwide as well as at the Brooklyn Museum in New York and in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.