Sonia Gordon

Age 87 Artist and teacher helped found the local Potters Guild.

August 19, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

Sonia Gordon, a Baltimore artist, educator and anti-war activist, died Saturday of respiratory failure at Roland Park Place. The former Mount Washington resident was 87.

Sonia Wachovsky was born in Baltimore and raised in East Baltimore by her mother, Rose Jaffe Cohen, and stepfather, Philip Cohen.

The family later moved to Northwest Baltimore, where she graduated from Western High School in 1937. She earned a bachelor's degree in English from Goucher College in 1941.

That year, she married David P. Gordon and settled into life as a homemaker raising her family.

"I graduated from Goucher College as an English major," she told the old Sun Magazine in 1968. "But I had always sketched, painted and drawn, and somewhere along the way, I started taking a painting course. I didn't like it, so I switched to sculpting."

Mrs. Gordon studied with noted Baltimore ceramist Olin Russum at the Baltimore Museum of Art and was a founding member of the Potters Guild of Baltimore in the early 1950s.

"Her pots and objects of art won national competitions and were seen in Art Forum and in galleries and shops up and down the East Coast, including the Corcoran Gallery in Washington," said a daughter, Hilry Gordon of Wallace, W.Va., who is herself an artist.

"She showed her stuff in the 1960s at Handdesigns by Harriet and at the Betty Cooke Gallery in Baltimore, and even at Henri Bendel in New York," she said.

After her marriage ended in divorce, Mrs. Gordon purchased a brown-shingled house on Ridgedale Road in Mount Washington, which she had renovated, and moved in with her five children and dog in 1966.

She added 11 feet to the garage, which she turned into a studio where she created ceramic ovenware, urns, bell chimes and pots. She also taught pottery making at the Jewish Community Center.

From the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, she served on the board of Baltimore Clayworks, which was established in Mount Washington in 1978.

"As an artist and teacher, she was extremely bright and perceptive and was very helpful to me as a mentor," said Deborah Beddwell, a longtime friend and Clayworks' executive director.

"Her work was highly original and trailblazing. Its highly resolved forms were unique, very organic and had a Bauhaus quality to it," Ms. Beddwell said.

Mrs. Gordon wielded considerable influence over types of classes that began being taught at Clayworks in the early 1980s and over criticism of the pots created by students.

"She thought there was a certain gravitas and value to the student's work. She took it very seriously and had made suggestions how they could improve," she said.

Jean R. Cohen, a former Mount Washington potter and neighbor who now designs and makes jewelry, first met Mrs. Gordon in the 1960s.

"She was teaching at the JCC and asked me to be her assistant. She was always very generous with her talent, instruction and friendliness," Mrs. Cohen said.

"Sonia was always so encouraging. She had a wonderful way about her and an openness and a willingness to share," Mrs. Cohen said.

Mrs. Gordon was a close friend of the late Billy Hadaway, the innovative Baltimore goldsmith and artist who died in 2000, and helped establish a scholarship in his name at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Mrs. Gordon also worked in other media, including painting abstract watercolors and working as a fiber artist. In recent years, she began writing short stories and poetry, some of which was published in literary magazines.

"My mother was an extremely talented woman - a jack of all trades - with multiple diverse interests," said her son, F. Spencer Gordon of Towson. "She would try her hand at something and quickly get very good at it."

Mrs. Gordon was a lifelong Franklin D. Roosevelt New Deal Democrat, family members said.

"Some of my earliest memories were canvassing door to door with her for Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and stuffing envelopes with her for the League of Women Voters," said another daughter, Karen R. Greengard of Sunfield, Mich.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Gordon, even though she was a woman of modest means, generously supported environmental, arts and educational charities, including Common Cause, the Baltimore Museum of Art, House of Ruth and the National Resources Defense Council.

Even though she moved to the Roland Park retirement community nine years ago, Mrs. Gordon had not lost her zeal for her political activity.

Since the Iraq war began in March 2003, Mrs. Gordon had joined other residents of the retirement community for its weekly Friday afternoon peace vigil on 40th Street.

"She was convinced that the current leadership was destroying us," her son said.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

Also surviving are another son, Adam R. Gordon of San Francisco; another daughter, Jaimy M. Gordon of Kalamazoo, Mich.; a sister, Peggy Neiman of Phoenix, Ariz.; and five grandchildren.

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