Bracelet, sterling silver / striped black agate, Niina Ots, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1977
Niina Ots (formerly Ratsep, nee Taevere) is of Estonian origin and was born in Russia in 1909. Six years after Estonian independence in 1918, she started studies in art and silversmithing at the State School of Art in Tallinn. After the Russian invasion in 1940, she did further study, then migrated to Australia in 1948. She designed and made jewellery for small fashion jewellery outlets in Sydney and in 1957 set up a partnership with Anna Louise Alma (who managed Ala Buttons), trading as Anina Pty Ltd, in Rowe Street. In 1961 both her first husband Rudolph Ratsep and her partner died. She set up a new partnership under the same name with Ann and Ross Fraser. Although she sold through the shop, she made many commissioned works on a personal basis for members of the Estonian community, who 'regard Niina's jewellery as a symbol of identity' (Lewers, catalogue). She also held a solo exhibition at David Jones Gallery in 1959. She married Meinhard Ots and moved to Melbourne in 1967, where she continued to work. She returned to Thirlmere, NSW in 1989.
The following is a summary from the catalogue in file:To maintain cultural identity under foreign domination in Estonia, the people continued to practice their language and wear traditional dress and jewellery as important symbols of identity- the jewellery in fact was made by German artisans. At the time Niina studied 'efforts were being made to develop a new national style - combining the local Finno-Ugric ethnographic heritage with elements of modernism'. She graduated with a certificate in filigree and enamelling.
Niina's early filigree work incorporated the flower motif on national costume, and filigree work continued to be an important aspect of her work (like the filigree broochs made in Talliin in 1942, also acquired by the museum), both in Estonia, in refugee camps, and later in Australia, working with Toomas T. Tava. Once in Australia, Niina's work started to change. 'Although Niina continued to make filigree pieces into the mid-sixties, at the same time she was developing a new style - radically reducing and simplifying the intricate lattice flowers and fan motifs which are characteristics of filigree work. Small spheres and leaves (derived from this tradition) were incorporated with bold sweeps of looped wire around semi-precious stones - often set on curved sheet forms'. (Lewers) She also started to use new materials like riverstones, and Australian gemstones. Lewers says she was not directly influenced by eg. Scandinavian jewellery, but that her work (with its new simplicity, and later organic forms and lines) does reflect the ethos of the time.
This bracelet and ring (nos 137/138 in catalogue) reflect a fine culmination of this aspect of her work, with its carefully controlled yet freeflowing lines, and in the use of a striped agate stone.
Niina Ots was a contemporary of Rhoda and Dorothy Wager, and had her shop in Rowe Street at the same time as Rhoda Wager. She was influential on other Australian jewellers, like Darani Lewers and Ray Norman, who both worked with her for a short period. In particular their use of stones, and for some time, the style of setting them was influenced by Niina Ots (see catalogue page 16)
Made by Niina Ots in Melbourne in 1977. The bracelet and armring are a good example of her later work, where the form is simply designed, and the metal is skilfully manipulated. See 'designed' for further details.
This set of bracelet and ring were owned by Ivy Raadik, a friend and member of the Estonian community in Melbourne. When Darani Lewers researched and presented a retrospective exhibition of Niina Ots's work in 1995, the exhibition brought together many people who had acquired her work over the years. Mrs Raadik was one who decided to give these items to the museum so that Niina Ots would be remembered.