John Nicholas Otar ( American, 1891 - 1939 )

c. 1933
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General Description

This dynamic copper and brass work is amongst the largest and most sophisticated examples of émigré metalsmith John Nicholas Otar’s modern boxes. A whirling spiral of stacked and fixed triangular plates — with a brass plate alternating with every six copper ones — the box suggests movement through its wildly undulating profile. A circular lid with a conical finial caps the weighty container; most of Otar’s boxes are scaled to hold cigarettes (one of the purposes cited in his 1933 patent of stacked plate designs), but this example is far too tall for such a purpose and may have been for cigars or some other specific use. Due to the “flexible” construction technique, no two boxes need share the same silhouette.

A native of Russia, Otar moved to the United States and settled in Santa Cruz, California, in the early 1920s and shortly thereafter established his metal shop on Pacific Avenue. Contemporary publications noted Otar’s studio produced iron, copper, and brass lamps; door-knockers; fire screens; chandeliers; sconces; hinges; brackets; and other items for both residential and commercial clients. Although relatively few of these early works have been identified, it appears most were executed in the popular taste for Spanish colonial revival metalwork. Known to locals as “Otar the Lampmaker” for his hammered copper lamp frames, he remained active in Santa Cruz until his death in 1939.

Adapted from

  • Kevin W. Tucker, DMA unpublished material, 2008 and 2009.

Web Resources

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