Saara Hopea was one of Finland’s most important designers. She was born in Porvoo, a city east of Helsinki. She maintained a lifelong connection to her birthplace, returning there throughout her life. Her maternal grandfather, Samuel Mika Westerlund, had been an important goldsmith. His son Lauri and daughter Lempi were both talented craftspeople. Her father, Isak Ossian Hopea, became the business manager of the Westerlund goldsmith business when he married Lempi, Saara’s mother. Saara grew up surrounded by craftsmen. She excelled at art as a child. She attended the School of Applied Arts in Helsinki from 1943 to 1946. Being the only school that taught craft and design, the school attracted the most skilled professionals in Finland to teach. Hopea earned her degree in interior design.
After graduation she worked as a furniture designer at Majander Oy in Helsinki from 1946 to 1948. She then joined the firm of Paavo Tynell, a noted metalsmith, from 1948 to 1952. Tynell’s company, Taito, produced light fixtures, many of which were much in demand in the United States. In 1951 Hopea met Kaj Franck, a major figure in Finland’s design field. Franck worked for the Wärtsilä Corporation, where he was in charge of the design department for utility ware at the Arabia Ceramic Factory and the chief designer at Nuutajärvi Glassworks. Initially hired by Franck to assist him in designing interiors and furniture for the Arabia-Nuutajärvi showroom, Hopea was then asked to design ceramic wares for the Arabia factory and glassware for the Nuutajärvi factory. Her designs were very successful and won numerous international awards. They epitomized the minimalist ideal of 1950s Finnish style, which had been influenced by the Bauhaus design philosophy. The death of her father in 1958 prompted Hopea to return to Porvoo and begin designing silver for her father’s shop. She had met Oppi Untracht in 1954 during his visit to Finland. The two corresponded for six years and finally were married in 1960. The couple decided that they would reside and work in New York.
Watching Untracht enamel, Hopea quickly learned how to adapt this medium to complement her design skills. According to Untracht, in a short period of time between 1961 and 1963, she produced thousands of enamel pieces, which were sold in some of the most exclusive shops in the country. Her work had a distinct look. By overfiring transparent enamels on copper, she was able to achieve results that gave the work a spontaneous, painterly look with intense colors and great depth. She put her career on hiatus in order to travel with her husband through India and Nepal for four years. At the conclusion of the trip, in 1967, the couple moved to Porvoo. There Hopea-Untracht, who had returned to silversmithing and eventually moved on to textile design, shifted her focus back to enameling, which she would continue to explore until 1980. Sadly she died in 1984, at the age of sixty-two. In 1988, as a tribute to her immense accomplishment, her husband published Saara Hopea-Untracht: Life and Work
, a book chronicling her life and the exceptional work she created.