Florence Temko 1921-2009
It was with a deep sense of personal loss that I read the brief Internet message saying that Florence Temko had died on 12th November, 1999. Despite the thousands of miles between our homes we had been close friends for many years.
I first came to know of Florence when her Profile appeared in the Origamian, the journal of the Origami Center, New York in spring 1965, a year after I began corresponding with its founder and President, Lillian Oppenheimer. Florence had been associated with the Origami Center from its very beginning in October 1958.
Florence was born on 20th October, 1921. Her maiden name was Florence Maria Marx and her parents were Erich and Erna Marx who were immigrants into England from central Europe. Erich was an engineer and he opened an engineering factory at Wembley, to the north-west of London, a district that had been the site of the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 and 1925. His company was named ERMA Ltd., the name being taken from his first name and surname, but perhaps also echoing his wife’s name. The family lived at 22 Midholm, a road that was also in Wembley Park, It has not yet been possible to ascertain whether Florence’s parents settled in England before or after she was born. She had one brother, Theo, who was two years her elder.
Florence was educated at Wycombe Abbey School and at St. George’s Business College. She also attended the London School of Economics, (one of the colleges of London University), although she did not take a degree. Before the War started in 1939, Florence took employment with Roneo, the manufacturers of duplicating machines in Romford, Essex, but when the War started she retuned to their London office. Later she worked with the Selection Trust, a company that had interests in copper and diamond mines in South Africa.
One day, during the War Florence returned to her home in Midholm in Wembley Park and found that several houses in the street had been bombed. She walked down the street in apprehension, but to her great relief, when she came to her own home, she found it intact. She served as an air raid warden and one night was almost killed by a five-inch fragment of jagged metal from an anti-aircraft shell that fell within three feet of her. She kept the piece of shrapnel as a souvenir!
During a weekend break in Brighton on the south coast Florence met Leonard Temko who was a sergeant in the Signals Corps of the United States forces in England and ten years her senior. He was stationed at Bushy Park, near London and was employed in the communications office that linked SHAEF (The Supreme Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe) with Washington DC. Florence and Leonard married on 24th September, 1945. As a “GI Bride” Florence travelled to the United States with other war brides on the Italian ship S.S. Vulcania, which had been used as a troop carrier. She arrived in the United States on 22nd March, 1946 and she and Leonard settled first in New Montclair in New Jersey, about 60 miles south of New York City. Leonard set up his own business with the name Bellaire Electronics. Later they moved to East Orange and then to New Shrewsbury, also in New Jersey. Florence and Leonard had three children, Joan (known when she was younger as Joani) who was born in 1947 and twins, Ronald and Stephen who were born in 1950. There were eventually eight grandchildren
Late in 1948 Leonard needed treatment and was taken to a spa at Clinton Falls in upper New York State. It was there that Florence met Lillian Oppenheimer (then Lillian Kruskal) who was visiting her own husband, Joseph Kruskal who was also having treatment. Lillian was then aged 49 and Florence 26. Meeting Florence and finding she was feeling somewhat lonely, a long way from home and separated from her own family, Lillian took Florence under her wing. As Florence once said, Lillian became her American mother. At that time Lillian had not yet rediscovered her earlier interest in paperfolding and while their husbands were undergoing treatment, they used to spend time in the occupational therapy department of the spa, making woolly toys
After their husbands had left the spa, Florence regularly visited Lillian at her home in New York. New Jersey was not too great a distance away for her to make the journey. They privately took up making woolly animals again, with a view to selling them. They made the toys at their homes. The Florence travelled to New York on Mondays when she could get a babysitter. After visiting suitable shops they would lunch at the Russian Tearoom restaurant. But in 1950 Joe Kruskal died and Florence’s twins were born so their meetings became much less frequent.
Lillian had known a few paper folds since childhood and as long ago as 1929 she had entertained her sick daughter Molly with the help of the pioneering book, “Fun with Paper Folding” by William D. Murray and Francis J. Rigney. But at that time, paperfolding does not appear to have made much impact on Lillian and after Molly was better, the book was put away and not sought out until many years later. Then, not long before 1953, Lillian rediscovered her interest in folding when a relative showed a flapping bird at a family party. She was enchanted, but was unable discover how to fold it. Eventually she attended classes for reusing waste materials at the New School for Social Research in New York. The teacher was Emily Rosenthal, who was a refugee from Nazi Germany and by chance she was able to demonstrate how to fold the flapping bird. Lillian immediately became enthusiastic about paperfolding, to the extent that it began to dominate her life.
In 1956 Florence and Lillian met once again at the Russian Tea Room. This time Lillian enthusiastically showed Florence how to fold a simple house. Immediately Florence, too, became a keen paperfolder. Robert Harbin's "Paper Magic" was published in 1956. Lillian received a copy in 1957 and Florence quickly acquired her own copy.
Meanwhile Lillian’s interest in paperfolding continued to develop and she deliberately adopted the Japanese word, “origami” for paperfolding. On 27th June, 1958 an article by Meyer Berger about Lillian’s paperfolding appeared in the New York Times and it led to her being interviewed on several television channels. Suddenly paperfolding became the rage and people were demanding to be taught. So Lillian decided to form an instruction group which she would call the Origami Center. The first meeting took place at the Japan Society in New York on 22nd October, 1958 and Florence was present at that meeting. But after six months, Lillian embarked on visits to Europe and Japan and the formal meetings of the Origami Center came to and end. Then, after Lillian’s return home, they were followed by monthly meetings on Mondays in Lillian's own home. There was no formal membership, but Florence regularly attended these meetings.
About this time Florence offered to give a talk on Origami in New Jersey and placed a short notice in a local newspaper. She expected only six to eight people, but forty-eight appeared. She followed this with further classes at the Old Mill Art Association in Tinton Falls, New Jersey and she also gave frequent lessons to schools and women's groups. There is a report in the Origamian for winter 1961 that she was in great demand for her demonstration lectures.
In 1960, Florence began another venture of which she became proud. She carefully preserved models she had received from other folders and started making a collection of step folds for models that she had found or received. She included the folded steps and the final model in transparent envelopes. Later Lillian told Florence that she copied the system for her own collection of models at the Origami Center. Over the years, Florence collected over 1,000 models which filled several filing cabinets. Many of the models were by the great pioneers of western folding, including Neal Elias, Fred Rohm, Patricia Crawford and Emanuel Mooser. Florence always hoped that this resource would be housed where the public would have access to it and it is understood that she eventually gave her collection to Origami USA.
In the early 1960s, Florence’s marriage to Leonard ended in divorce. She continued to live in New Hampshire until she eventually moved to live in New York City.
In 1961 Florence suffered a severe attack of hepatitis after eating infected mussels. She was bedridden for six months and during this time she practised her paperfolding, including repeatedly folding all of the models in Robert Harbin’s book, “Paper Magic”. She also folded models from Yoshizawa’s book, “Origami Dokuhon” (“Origami Reader”) which had been published in 1957 and in which he first described his innovatory new techniques of paperfolding.
The most important of Florence’s visits abroad was to Japan in 1964. She was again able to visit that country in 1977. Florence was the first Westerner to visit Japan for the purposes of paperfolding since Lillian Oppenheimer’s visit in 1959 and like Lillian’s, her visit was featured in the Asahi Shimbu newspaper. Florence met Yoshizawa at his own house. He then lived in a tiny traditional Japanese home with seating on the floor. The meeting was at first very stilted as Yoshizawa weighed up his visitor, but suddenly he decided that Florence was a worthy guest and he began to show her some of his exquisite creations including a large green dragon and an insect that seemed truly alive. To be treated in this way was a great honour for Florence.
Another significant meeting was with Kosho Uchiyama, who lived in a small Zen monastery on the outskirts of Kyoto and which she and her guide had great difficulty in finding. She came unannounced, but was greeted warmly by Uchiyama, who told her that he could see her for a short time before he would have to go to prayers. Florence described the magnificent Buddha that he had folded. Suddenly he gave her a vivid instruction in Zen, by cheerfully pulling the Buddha apart to leave the original square of paper from which it had been folded! With a laugh he offered Florence the opportunity to refold it, but she politely declined the invitation.
People often asked Florence for instructions for folding models and she decided she would like to write a book about origami. She prepared a draft of a book with ten models and submitted it to thirty different publishers in New York. As so often for would-be authors, she had difficulty in persuading publishers and all of them rejected her draft. But then Platt and Munk, one of the publishers, found that the proposed author of a book had had to withdraw and they asked Florence if she would be willing to write about paper cutting. She agreed. "Kirigami, the Art of Papercutting" was published in 1961 as a boxed set with a supply of paper. Florence, herself, devised the word "kirigami" from the Japanese words “kiri” for "to cut" and “kami” for “paper", not realizing that "kirigami" was already an established Japanese word! Platt and Munk sold 600,000 copies of “Kirigami” but unfortunately for Florence she had been required to transfer the copyright to the publishers for a fixed payment and she did not receive any royalties.
Even then, Florence’s career as an author was slow to proceed and it was not until five years later that she was asked by the same publisher to write a book about paperfolding. It appeared with the title, “Party Fun with Origami” in 1966. Further books followed and It led to Florence becoming the most prolific writer about origami and other crafts in English, eventually writing some eighty books. She was prepared to tackle any crafts subject, from the art of Chinese paper cutting to knitting and the native crafts of several countries. But over the years her origami books exceeded all others. Among the books that she wrote for adults rather than children were "Paper Folded, Cut, Sculpted" (1974), which included sections on these diverse paper crafts, and "Made with Paper" which was published in England in 1991, but which, because of a series of unrelated delays on the part of the publisher, was never published in the United States.
Florence’s books continued to appear regularly up to the time of her death, finishing notably with an excellent series of books which included "Origami Boxes" and "Origami Toys" and which were published by the Japanese company, Tuttle Publishers, who had offices in the United States and had been publishing origami books in English since the 1950s. Florence discovered that she had a gift for explaining craft techniques in simple language. In 2003 Florence estimated that 2 1/5 million copies of her books had been sold and by the time she died the total is thought to have amounted to 3 million. In addition Florence was the author of countless magazine and newspaper articles.
Florence’s activities in origami were very diverse. Her first television was in England in the early 1960s when she appeared on ITV demonstrating a simple origami box to her 12 year old niece, Caroline. In the United States she made guest appearances on many television shows including several demonstrating origami with Steve Allen and in the 1970s she did regular origami programmes coming from Albany in New York State.
In 1965 Florence was one of the New York folders at the Origami Center who entertained the group of Japanese folders led by Toyoaki Kawai, who visited the New York World Fair that year. An unassuming member of that group was Toshie Takahama, who did so much to build a bridge between folders of Japan and the West. It was the start of a lasting friendship between Florence and Toshie. Florence entertained the Japanese visitors at her own home in New Hampshire
Florence regularly visited her family in England. In April 1966, during a visit by Lillian Oppenheimer, the members of the newly formed Origami Portfolio Society had first met at the home of Lillian's daughter, Rosaly Evnine, who then lived in London. The following year, in September, 1967 the British Origami Society was founded and a year later, in November, 1968 the first Annual General Meeting was held. It coincided with one of Florence's regular visits to England, so she was able to attend the meeting. Philip Shen from Hong Kong was also present and they became the first overseas members of the British Origami Society. This was the first time that I first met Florence. Since then we have met on many occasions in England and in the United States and we carried on a frequent correspondence, first by airmail and in recent years by e-mail.
In 1967, Florence was one of the American folders who received the Brutish Origami Society Overseas Portfolio, which was sent to the United States for circulation around a selected number of American paperfolders. She was later a member of a portfolio which was separately arranged by American and Canadian folders, themselves.
In 1969, Florence remarried, this time to Henry Petzal whose recreation was working with silver. Florence became Florence Petzal, but she wrote to the Origamian under the name Florence Temko Petzal. However, her books had been written under the name of Florence Temko and it was inconvenient to change. Although in private life she became Mrs. Petzal, among paperfolders she quickly reverted to the name of Florence Temko and continued to use it in origami circles for the rest of her life.
In 1977 Florence visited Japan a second time, this time accompanied by her husband, Henry. The occasion was the planning of a new book, “The Magic of Kirigami” which she wrote jointly with Mrs, Toshie Takahama.
Florence also visited Akira Yoshizawa again. This time he and Mrs. Yoshizawa had moved to a new home furnished in the Western style and the meeting was much more relaxed than the first one. By now Yoshizawa had visited Europe, the United States and other countries on many occasions. Florence had met him at origami conventions in New York and Yoshizawa had become used to meeting Western folders. At this second meeting in Japan he again showed her some of his impressive creations. In Tokyo Mrs. Takahama took the opportunity to invite Florence to a special reception given by the Nippon Origami Association. The reception was sprung on florence unexpectedly because she was expecting to meet Henry for lunch. However, she found the invitation unusually pressing. It was, in fact an exceptional tribute for someone who, however well-known in the West, was not widely known among ordinary Japanese folders. She later described the reception as “overwhelming”.
From Tokyo, Florence and Henry moved on to Kyoto, where they were entertained by an experienced paperfolder, Mrs. Mitsuda, who spoke fluent English. She arranged for Florence to meet Kosho Uchiyama a second time. By now he had retired from his monastery to live in a private home and he again showed Florence some of his wonderful models, including the figure of Christ on the Cross. He told Florence that two of his students had moved to live in the United States. By coincidence they were living in a remote area, but no more than an hour’s drive a way from Florence’s home. She and Henry were later able to drive to meet them and pass on Uchiyama’s greetings.
The occasion for the publication of “The Magic of Kirigami” in 1978 was unusual in that the invitation came from Japan Publications, one of the leading publishers of Japanese books for the West. They had already published several books about origami. They invited Florence and Mrs. Toshie Takahama jointly to collaborate on writing a book about paper-cutting. The book was unusual in that the two authors lived 10,000 miles apart and they wondered how collaboration at such a distance would work. Fortunately Mrs. Takahama spoke English fluently so they were able to correspond by airmail. This was long before the Internet, and even correspondence by airmail was a drawn-out process. In the circumstances, the book was put together remarkably quickly and the process was helped by Florence’s visit to Tokyo. Each author contributed paper cut designs which were traditional in her own country and the contents of the book were seamless.
In August, 1980, Florence once more visited England when she attended a special meeting of the members of the British Origami Society for her and Dokuohti Nakano, the Japanese author of the origami courses in Japanese and English at the home of Mrs. Marlene Stroud. The same year she attended the autumn convention of the Society, held in Birmingham.
In March, 1981 she spent two weeks holiday in Alicante in Spain. Two meetings with local paperfolders were arranged for her and among others she met were Felix Gimeno and Vicente Palacios.
Florence and her husband moved to live in Lenox, Massachusetts, remaining there until 1982 when they moved to live in San Diego, where Florence’s children had settled. They lived first in Diamond Street in San Diego. Then, at the end of 1985 they moved to a penthouse apartment near La Jolla, a few miles to the north of downtown San Diego. It was in a splendid situation overlooking the Pacific Ocean and close to the beach.
Because of limitations of space for her large collection of origami books, Florence decided to part with a substantial number of them. She wanted them to be available to the public. One possibility was that she should give them to the Friends of the Origami Center, but she realised that this would merely be to duplicate books that were in the Lillian Openheimer’s collection at the Origami Center. She decided instead to give them to the Mingei Museum, in order to establish an origami library on the West Coast. Moreover, the Mingei Museum was close to where she now lived and it would be possible to consult her books if she chose to do so.
The Mingei International Museum was a very young foundation that had been established as recently as 1978. Nevertheless, it was strongly supported by the people of San Diego and under wise trustees and directors it quickly became an influential institution. It was conveniently situated in Bilboa Park, quite near to La Jolla, where Florence and her husband came to live.
The collection Florence bequeathed was substantial. They included about 130 published origami books, many of them early works which were now unobtainable. These were detailed in a list that was later made available. The gift included a collection of forty-one books on origami and other crafts written by Florence herself. Apart from this, however, there was a large collection of magazines, papers and other items, including a complete set of the Origamian. Florence estimated that her total gift totalled 600 items.
In the book, Origami Masterworks, published in 2003, the Director of the Museum, Martha Longenecker wrote:
“Shortly after its establishment in 1978, Mingei International Museum was blessed by a member who had an infectious enthusiasm for paper – Florence Temko, author of many books on origami. Her donation to our Museum of her international paper collection and library on paper (now housed at the Museum in Bilboa Park, San Diego) was the impetus for Mingei International’s 1985 travelling exhibition entitled “Paper Innovations– Handmade Paper and Handmade Objects of Cut, Folded and Molded Paper”.
The exhibition was devoted to other paper crafts apart from origami, but it included origami creations by some of the leading folders of the day, especially Florence’s friends, Akira Yoshizawa, Toshie Takahama, Arnold Tubis and Emanuel Mooser.
In April 1985 the private bimonthly magazine, or amateur press alliance, FOLD was formed and Florence, was a founder member. Every two months each of the twenty members submitted a contribution to the editor who put all of the contributions together and distributed them only to the members. I was privileged to became a member in July, 1987. Florence’s contributions related to many aspects of origami, often illustrated from her own books. As an author, one of her keenest interests was the law of copyright relating to origami and this continued to concern her for the rest of her life. She later became a member of Origami Authors and Creators (OAC), an Internet society formed to protect copyright owners’ interests. Florence contributed by postings on the Internet to discussions on what had become a thorny subject, especially when there were sites on the Internet where pirated copies of works were brazenly offered for sale.
Florence made her usual contribution to FOLD for January and February, 1987, but unexpectedly added a note that she would have to resign because Henry had to undergo a quintuple heart bypass. Nevertheless he made an excellent recovery and by the July/August issue, Florence was back in FOLD. In fact Henry was so well that in April, 1988 they were able to embark on a visit abroad, first to stay with friends in Portugal and then for three weeks in London where they visited each others’ relatives. In London Florence was able to attend a meeting with members of the British Origami Society.
In the issue of FOLD for March/April 1989, Florence reported that the Greater San Diego Origami Group had been formed. She founded this group with V’Ann Cornelius, who also lived in the area. Later, when he retired from being professor of physics at Purdue University, Arnold Tubis also moved to live in the San Diego area and became a member of the group. Like Florence, V’Ann Cornelius and Arnold Tubis were also members of FOLD. Florence gave another report on the San Diego Paperfolders in the issue of FOLD for September/October,1990 Her contribution was not unusual in any way, but a note added by the editor announced that Florence had told him of her immediate resignation, on account of the deterioration of her husband’s heath. FOLD continued for several more years, but Florence did not return again.
Robin Macey from England visited Florence in San Diego in 1998 and stayed a night. He was able to meet Henry there. Later Henry moved to live in a care home and he eventually died in 2001.
In November, 1997, I was fortunate in being able to attend the first Pacific Coast Origami Conference which was held in the Japanese quarter of San Francisco. Following the conference Florence invited me to stay at her apartment at La Jolla. By then Henry had moved to live in his care home so I was unable to meet him. My visit to San Diego was a very full one. It included a visit by tram across the border into Mexico, where I experienced the shock of crossing into what seemed to be a very different civilisation. Florence took me to lunch in a basement restaurant which I should never have found by myself. It was decorated with festoons of very interesting Mexican paper cuts. Another day we visited the Mingei Museum, near La Jolla. This had recently been moved into a splendid newly-erected building in Bilboa Park.. Florence was well-known to the staff and she proudly showed me a cabinet which displayed some of Henry’s excellent silverwork. Visiting the basement, I was able to go through the many origami books that Florence had donated to the museum and I was able to answer several queries that had arisen in my mind arising out of the list of the books given by Florence to the museum. This had been compiled previously and Florence had sent a copy to me to me. Florence and I also visited San Diego Old Town, also in Bilboa Park which I found to be a fascinating collection of buildings from former times, with an adjoining area of colourful and interesting shops. On the Saturday afternoon we visited a local library for a meeting of some twenty members of the San Diego Folders. They greeted me warmly and I greatly enjoyed my visit. It was clear that Florence took great pleasure in living in San Diego.
In 1998, Florence travelled to Paris to attend the outstanding international exhibition with the title “Paris Origami” which was held at the Caroussel du Louvre, This is an underground exhibition and conference centre adjoining the Musée du Louvre and accessible from the famous glass pyramid. By any standard it was a most impressive exhibition and many of the world’s leading folders were there, including folders not only from Europe, but also from the United States and Japan, notably Mr. and Mrs. Yoshizawa, and Mr. and Mrs. Momotani. Both had fine exhibitions of their own work. Florence was able to meet again many of the folders with whom she had become acquainted over the years. I also attended and met Florence once more. And not only her, but many other folders whom I knew personally or through the Internet or by correspondence.
In her introduction to “Origami Masterpieces” Martha Longenecker continued:
“While serving as a Curatorial Consultant for that exhibition, Florence Temko proposed to help Mingei International organize and entire exhibition to be coordinated with a future Origami USA conference in San Diego.
“Now 18 years later, the time has come! “Origami Masterworks – Innovative Forms in the Art of Paperfolding” is the centrepiece for origami USA’s Pacific Coast Conference, to be held in San Diego, October 9 – 13, 2003.”
The Guest Curator for the 2003 exhibition was Florence’s fellow member of the San Diego Folders, V’Ann Cornelius, who was be a Vice-President of Origami USA. About 200 models by forty-two of the world’s leading creative folders were on display. Florence was made an origami consultant to the museum and she was asked to make the commentary for a DVD of the exhibition. The sumptuous book of the exhibition, “Origami Masterworks” was also introduced with the words: “Dedicated to the noted author and recognized pioneer of Origami USA, Florence Temko for whom the art of paperfolding is a joy to share.” Florence also wrote a chapter in the book on the background of Origami.
This was not the only recognition given to Florence. Also in 2003, Origami USA created the Florence Temko Award in recognition of her outstanding work in promoting and teaching origami. This was to be awarded to an accomplished folder who had never been involved with any organised origami group and it took the form of a grant to enable the recipient to attend the annual Origami USA convention in New York. In 2005, the second recipient of the award was Meenakshi Mukerji. By a fortunate coincidence, she had to visit San Diego to send her son off to college and she took the opportunity of visiting Florence at her home at La Jolla. Meenakshi has left us a warm account of her visit to Florence at her penthouse overlooking the Pacific Ocean, prominently containing Florence’s remaining collection of origami models and origami books. Before she left they were able to stroll together along the beautiful Pacific coast.
Florence and I continued to correspond on all sorts of origami topics. But about two years ago she felt obliged to leave her penthouse suite and move into smaller sheltered accommodation. Nevertheless she continued to be active, still writing books and writing to friends by e-mail. Like several others, I urged her to write down her memories of Lillian and the Origami Center and she compiled her invaluable “Origami Recollections” in which she gave an account of her own life with origami as well as an account of Lillian Oppenheimer and the Origami Center. It is particularly invaluable because it was written by one who had been present through all the momentous years.
Just a few days before her death, Florence was reported to be feeling tired, but she continued to correspond with people by e-mail and to speak to them by telephone. She was active to the very last until the end came suddenly when she suffered a heart attack on 12th November, 2009.
Florence had a lively mind which belied the fact that she was in her late eighties and she seemed much younger than her age suggested. We have lost an enthusiastic and talented folder with a gift for writing clear books for beginners in Origami and other crafts. We have also lost a great initiator and stimulator. Florence lived for Origami and she will be deeply missed by paperfolders from all over the world. We are all immeasurably thankful for her contribution to the art of Origami; but above all we are most thankful for Florence and for her life among us and for her warm friendship.
19th November, 2009.
In writing this appreciation I have greatly benefited from Florence’s own “Recollections of Origami” in its various editions.
I also express my grateful thanks to Robin Macey for all the information that he has generously shared with me. Through Robin I also thank Florence’s son, Ronald Temko, who has very kindly provided so much information which could not have been obtained from anywhere else.
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