Family History - Paternal Line

Sadie Temkin Gordon
June 3, 1904 - August 1, 2000

Sadie Temkin Gordon was born in Boston, MA to recently arrived Russian immigrants. Her father, Mendel Temkin, died of consumption when she was just nine months old, leaving Zelda Plagoff Temkin to support her two children, Sadie and older brother Dan, by working as a seamstress. In the decade that followed, nearly all of the Plagoffs and Temkins emigrated to the U.S., recreating their close-knit community of cousins in the Boston area.

Sadie's formal education was limited and, in her memory, unpleasant; she did not return to high school to complete her senior year once she had turned sixteen. Sadie was given art lessons at a young age, as part of a program offered by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; she also had private elocution lessons to overcome an early speech impediment. And she was taught textile crafts by her mother. From the age of twelve, Sadie worked at her Uncle Isaac's grocery store; from the age of 16 until she married at the age of 20, she participated in community theater productions.

In 1924 Sadie moved to Lebanon, PA to marry her cousin, Julius Gordon. In 1926 their son Mendel was born. To help with the family finances, Sadie opened Sadie's Knitting Shop on the second floor of a building owned by her cousin Yale. She taught hand-knitting and sold her knitted products. In 1937 the family moved to Washington, DC to be near Sadie's brother Dan, and Sadie recreated her knitting business in that city. It was hard work for little profit and she soon gave it up for a regular job at an alteration shop. She then advanced to a job with Garfinkels Department Store, altering gowns for Washington's society ladies. She took drawing classes at a local Friendship House and brought Mendel with her. For the rest of her life, in every city she lived, Sadie availed herself of community schools and recreation centers to expand her arts and crafts skills.

1942 saw the family's relocation to Atlanta, GA. Julius had accepted a job as a guard at the Federal Penitentiary there after passing his civil service exams. Sadie enrolled in the Atlanta Opportunity School to learn typing, and library indexing and filing. With her brother in the service and her son soon to join, she wanted to do her part for the war effort as well. Upon completing her courses, she worked as Clerk Typist and then Statistical Clerk for the War Department.

Sadie joined the synagogue in Atlanta and became very active in the Sisterhood, serving as Secretary and then President. She occasionally volunteered at the Jewish Home for the Aged. In 1954 she was offered a part-time job there to provide arts and crafts activities for the residents. Under Sadie's supervision, the "hobby shop" at the home engaged residents in weaving, rug-hooking, doll-making, knitting, and ceramics. Her success was bittersweet; she left in despair in 1960, overwhelmed by the inevitable decline and deaths of the residents she had come to love. Yet she was soon volunteering again, at a facility for multiple-sclerosis patients; and then accepted another arts and crafts job at a residence for cerebral palsy patients.

Sadie and Julius moved to Miami, Florida upon Julie's retirement from the penitentiary, and Sadie immediately applied for a job at the Miami Jewish Home for the Aged. She was given work in their Recreation Program. By 1966 she had been promoted to Craft Supervisor of the Arts & Crafts Program, overseeing two aides and a half a dozen volunteers in providing an astonishing array of activities and services. These included involving residents in making draperies and mending clothing as well as creating high quality rugs, dolls and ceramics for sale at fund-raisers. Instructors were brought in from the local community college to teach copper enameling and painting. Her fully stocked Crafts Room was a hub of activity. In a detailed report about its operation, Sadie wrote: "All of us are so interested in our work that all is done with a light heart. A feeling of happiness prevails despite small frustrations and unavoidable errors. My girls are constantly learning new skills that they didn't even know existed until they came to the Craft Dept. to work."

And so it was with Sadie herself, who was always learning as she taught, and teaching as she learned. In 1970 she shifted to part-time work, then retired within a couple of years. She and Julius moved to Wilmington, DE, where Mendel was settled with his wife Helen and their three daughters. However, once the girls were off to college, Sadie and Julie returned to Florida - Fort Myers and then Cape Coral. Sadie was an avid student at the Cape Coral Arts Studio, and her associations there helped her through the difficult period following Julie's death in 1983. Eventually Sadie was prevailed upon to return to Wilmington, where even into her 90's she continued to hone her skills by taking classes in ceramic sculpture at the Academy of Lifelong Learning.

Sadie Temkin Gordon created hundreds of functional and decorative objects in the course of her immensely productive life, sometimes with the help of Julius who was himself a talented woodworker. She was as harsh a critic as any when it came to evaluating her projects, but she loved them all, the successes and failures alike. No error was regretted so long as something had been learned along the way. She considered herself always a craftswoman and a student of art, not a professional or fine artist. She signed her works SG, STG, Sadie, Sade, Sadie T. Gordon or, often, not at all. Mixed in with her own creations are many made by the students, family members and friends whose lives she touched. For me personally she was - and will ever be - mentor, role model and inspiration. I can almost hear her now, telling me to stop messing around with her old things and get on with my own work. But it is my pleasure to document her creative process, and I'm still learning from her as I assemble a comprehensive Sadie portfolio.

Zelda Leah Gatuskin, (a.k.a. Zelda Gordon)
March, 2006    E-mail Zelda

Sadie & Julie
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