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 Emry (Emery) Kopta  (1884 - 1953)

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Lived/Active: California/Arizona / Austria      Known for: Indian portrait-bust sculpture, photographer

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Emry Kopta
An example of work by Emry (Emery) Kopta
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Graz, Austria, Emry Kopta was a sculptor especially noted for his expressive terra-cotta portrait busts of Hopi Indians. Many of the models have been destroyed, but during his lifetime and after his death, several were cast in bronze. His work is described by art historian Patricia Broder as "strong, emotional statements of the tragedy of the Indian confined to life on the reservation. His sculptures express a deep sense of weariness and sorrow. The heads are realistically conceived, yet simplified in detail, to insure the strongest dramatic impact." (227-229)

Kopta was born in Graz, Austria and was raised in Czechoslovakia in privileged circumstances that included private tutors and school in Cologne, Germany. His father, Wenzel Kopta, was a famous concert violinist, and his mother was from Philadelphia and had met her husband when he was on a concert tour of America.

The family moved to San Francisco, California in 1900 when Emry was sixteen, and they also purchased a ranch they called Red Rock in northern California along the Sacramento River. Spending time there working on the ranch, Emry imagined himself becoming a cowboy, but his dreams for that life ended when he fell from a horse and had a serious injury.

He returned to San Francisco, focused on his art talent and enrolled at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute in 1904. However, the school was destroyed in 1906 in the earthquake and fire, so Emry Kopta went to Paris and studied five years at the Sorbonne. He then opened a gallery in Los Angeles, and in 1918, exhibited sculpture at the California Liberty Fair.

In 1912, Emry Kopta, along with painter and illustrator Lon Megargee, responded to an invitation by Don Lorenzo Hubbell to come to the Navaho Reservation in northern Arizona. Hubbell had a trading post, which was one of the first businesses in Arizona operated by Caucasian people. At the Hubbell Trading Post, Kopta and Megargee observed and sketched the Indians, Hopi as well as Navajo, as they went about their daily life. Kopta was so intrigued that he moved from Los Angeles to Arizona, and for twelve years lived on the Hopi Reservation with Indian trader Tom Tavatewa and established a studio at First Mesa.

Kopta married in 1923, and he and his bride, Anna, moved briefly to Santa Fe but stayed less than a year, and in 1924 settled permanently in Phoenix. Most summers they visited the Hopi Reservation and Kopta worked in the villages of the First, Second and Third Mesas.

In the 1930s, Kopta worked for the Phoenix Public Works Art Project and did a design for a decorative fountain intended to be the focal point for the campus at Arizona State Teachers College, now Arizona State University. He chose Hopi legend and ritual as his theme, but there was not enough money to complete his idea, so the completed fountain is a truncated version.

Emry Kopta died in Phoenix on May 20, 1953.

Patricia Broder, "Bronzes of the American West"
Peter Birmingham, "The New Deal in the Southwest"
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Emry Kopta was a sculptor who was born in  Gratz, Austria  on May  22, 1884.  By 1934 Kopta was a resident of Phoenix, Arizona.  Kopta worked with Grace Nicholson in the early 1900s.  Nicholson was an art dealer who had a shop and studio in Pasadena, California.  She collected Native American objects from the West and Southwest for private collectors and museums.  Kopta and Nicholson photographed the landscapes, tribal festivals, settlements and people they encountered to provide information on the original use of cultural objects.

In the late 1920s, Kopta was also involved in the construction of the Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, which was designed by Warren McArthur, Jr. and Charles McArthur, brothers and architects.  A course is offered at Arizona State University, School of Architecture, on "The Legacy of the Arizona Biltmore."  Kopta was responsible for casting cement blocks for the hotel.  He cast molds for architect McArthur—the blocks are the unique part of the building.  McArthur could not find anyone else who would even attempt the molds.

Kopta died in Phoenix, Arizona on May 20, 1953.  He exhibited at the California Liberty Fair of 1918.


Hughes, Edan Milton.  Artists in California:  1786-1940.  San Francisco: Hughes Publishing Company.  1986.

Mallett, Daniel Trowbridge.  Mallett's Index of Artists:  International--Biographical...  New York: Peter Smith.  1948.

Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall.  Publications in Southern California Art 1, 2 &3.  Los Angeles: Dustin Publications.  1984.


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