I never met my great-grandfather. I really didn’t know much about him until I became an apprentice coppersmith. I first worked at John Gantt’s shop on Romney Street in Charleston with Mr. Gantt, and three other craftsmen who had joined in the fun of that tiny space. As I bumbled and learned my way around in those first few weeks, I felt so driven to make the copper into something beautiful. It helped having such enormous talent to look up to surrounding me at every angle. But I could feel it in my heart – when I would get cuts and scrapes, burns, and bash my fingers to smithereens, giving it up for a more womanly occupation never crossed my mind. I wanted to learn and I wanted to create.
Mr. Gantt was about my grandpa’s age. So when my grandpa came to visit me at work one day, he and Mr. Gantt hit it off right away. They began talking about all sorts of things, but one thing of particular interest to me as I listened in was my grandpa’s mention of his father. After work, we sat down and he proudly told me all about him for the first time.
My great grandparents, Morris and Naomi Gordon, in Saratoga Springs, NY. Circa 1918
Morris Gordon was a copper and tin smith in Saratoga Springs, New York. He had a little shop on Putnam Street – a two-story building with the shop on the first floor and the family home on the second. Morris knew metals, and in those difficult days of the depression, he mostly did repairs. Radiators, vegetable graters, roofs, gutters. But he also made things beautiful. From copper details on the facades of the fancy hotels in Saratoga, to a simple ceremonial washing cup for the congregation of their local Synagogue.
My great grandpa's shop with a recently repaired icebox outside, Putnam Street, Saratoga Springs, NY
The old cup is still in my family. It was given back to my grandfather a few years ago by some thoughtful worshipper who knew him, and knew it would mean something to him. My grandpa took a picture of that cup (as he takes pictures of literally EVERYTHING) and sent the picture to me after I had begun my apprenticeship. I kept it on my workbench, perched on my screwdriver shelf, staring at me. When ever I felt frustrated or even close to defeated by the difficulty of my task or learning, I would just take a second and stare back at that cup in the picture. I would remember that copperwork, and creating was in my blood. Taking raw materials and using them to solve a problem, and make something beautiful was a part of who I was, and whom I had been born to. It all made sense to me when I looked at that cup. I knew that I belonged; and I love my grandfathers, both Morris and Sidney, for that.
My adorable grandparents, Sid and Helen Gordon, on a recent visit to our home