Oppi Untracht was born in Brooklyn on November 17, 1922. After graduating in 1946 from New York University, he attended Columbia University and obtained his master’s degree in art education in 1947. He studied photography with Lisette Model and Berenice Abbott and worked briefly as a photojournalist. He taught himself to enamel in 1947 and was able, in turn, to teach the process at the New School of Printing and Enameling at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School from 1953 until 1963. He exhibited and sold his enamels at America House in New York, where his work gained recognition for its painterly abstract style.
Not satisfied to use only the traditional methods, he embarked on an exploration of new ways to apply enamels. His experiments were presented in a book entitled Enameling on Metal
, which was published in 1957. Besides describing and illustrating traditional methods of enameling, Untracht also presented the experimental methods he had used to achieve a variety of effects. Overfiring and using the oxidized areas as part of the overall pattern were encouraged. New materials that had become available since the war were introduced in his book. The book made a strong impact on the field of enameling and encouraged a new generation of artists to use Untracht’s methods in their work.
In 1960 Untracht married Saara Hopea (see above), and the two embarked on a collaborative endeavor in the field of enameling. Their works, predominantly plates and bowls, were sold in many galleries throughout the country in the 1960s. He participated in a number of juried exhibitions, including the New York Annual, where he won a prize in 1962 for his enamels. In 1962 the Untrachts were invited to join an artistic cooperative in New York, where they could have access to large kilns to produce enamels for architectural applications. The venture was short-lived, but a number of large panels were created. He traveled extensively.
In 1957 he was awarded a Fulbright fellowship that allowed him to travel throughout India for two years and photograph its traditional and contemporary crafts. He again embarked on a four-year trip in 1963, living in Nepal and India, and documenting the crafts of the various regions. Upon the conclusion of the trip in 1967, the Untrachts moved to Finland. There he was able to focus on writing and published several books, including Metal Techniques for Craftsmen
(1968); Jewelry Concepts and Technology
(1982); Saara Hopea-Untracht: Life and Work
(1988), a tribute to his wife; and Traditional Jewelry of India
(1997). Untracht has contributed to other volumes and has written numerous journal articles. He is a member of the Jewelry Historian’s Society of London. In 1998 he was made an honorary fellow of the American Crafts Council and was given its lifetime achievement award for contributions to the field of crafts, and in 1999 he was named an honorary member of the Society of North American Goldsmiths. Untracht spent the last decades of his life in the historic town of Porvoo, Finland.