Dear Guild Hall community,
It is with great sorrow that we relay to you that Ruth Appelhof, Executive Director Emeritus of Guild Hall, passed away at home overnight. Her death was leukemia-related.
Ruth was Guild Hall’s Executive Director for 17 years from 1999 to 2016, and her meaningful contributions to the institution— including the renovation completed in 2010, the purchase of the adjacent property, Guild House, and the founding of the Guild House Artist-in-Residence Program, and the establishment of the Ellen and James S. Marcus Endowment for Musical Programming, among other sizable accomplishments— reverberate today. She loved Guild Hall with every fiber of her being and she happily worked and greeted visitors, often seven-days-a-week.
Ruth earned her Ph. D. from Syracuse University having written her dissertation on American Modernism. Her museum career started at the Whitney Museum of American Art as a Helena Rubenstein Fellow. She went on to direct museums across the country. She was the Chief Curator of the Lowe Art Gallery at Syracuse University followed by the Birmingham Museum where she was instrumental in developing an important contemporary art collection as well as one of the most comprehensive holdings in photography in the south. As a professor at the State University of New York in Auburn and then at Syracuse University, Ruth taught art history, museum management, curatorial methodology and collections development at undergraduate and graduate levels. In 2017, Ruth was a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome, and from 2017 to 2019, she was a Fellow at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center. Since retiring from Guild Hall in 2016, she worked tirelessly on her 192-page book Lee & Me: An Intimate Portrait of Lee Krasner (Officina Libraria, May 2020). Ruth lived with her adoring husband of 22 years, Gary Adamek, in Springs, East Hampton.
In a message to Ruth from our Artistic Director, Josh Gladstone remembers, “In our 16 years together, I learned a lot from you— a lot about resiliency, tenacity, good humor in the face of ongoing challenge. I learned about diplomacy from you, and a lot about how to be an arts professional. You taught me about leadership and you taught me about loyalty, and while it’s true that we didn’t always see eye to eye, you were always kind to me and to all of your beloved staff. You invited us to your home, you encouraged us to excel and you were tireless in your devotion to Guild Hall. You held the lantern high, you lit the way for us, and we followed you over rocky paths and down gorgeous avenues and we didn’t waver because you didn’t waver.”
Chief Curator and Museum Director, Christina Strassfield says Ruth’s commitment to Guild Hall and the staff was palpable. “Ruth would often ask questions that she knew the answer to but wanted to hear everyone’s opinion before deciding which way she needed to proceed in the best interest of Guild Hall. I remember early on, she said that her job was the best job that she ever had. I think she felt that till the very end. She loved being at Guild Hall, loved the museum, theater and education. Ruth cared about the artists in our community and tried to get them involved in whatever way she could think of.”
“When I think about Ruth, I often remember her walking into the office everyday chirping, ‘Good morning!’ to each one of us as though it was the greatest day of her life,” recalls Jeannine Dyner, Deputy Director, who worked alongside Ruth for seventeen years. “She was exuberant in her love for Guild Hall and the community, making each day a relished opportunity to bring people together in their shared love of the arts. Ruth was fearless and tenacious, and she taught me to think big before trying to work out all the details— we could always figure those out later!”
“When I took over the Guild Hall leadership from Ruth, she offered her unconditional support and told me, ‘This is the best job anyone could have,’” recalls Executive Director Andrea Grover. “It was evident that her heart and soul were tied enduringly to this institution.”
We will determine a beautiful way to honor Ruth and celebrate her forthcoming book Lee & Me: An Intimate Portrait of Lee Krasner. Ruth was scheduled to present a related talk this summer at the John Drew Theater as part of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center Lecture Series. Guild Hall will reopen and celebrate Ruth Appelhof’s remarkable life and legacy soon.
The Staff and Board of Guild Hall
When I think about Ruth, I often remember her walking into the office every day chirping “Good morning!” to each one of us as though it was the greatest day of her life. She was exuberant in her love for Guild Hall and the community, making every day a relished opportunity to bring people together in their shared love of the arts. Ruth was fearless and tenacious and she taught me to think big before trying to work out all the details – we could always figure those out later! We were lucky enough to work on the renovation, the 75th anniversary celebration, and to share many amazing moments at Guild Hall. But most of all Ruth was a great friend to me and I will miss her.
Dear Ruth – Dear Boss – Dear Neighbor – Dear Friend,
Apparently you did not get my most recent memo which insisted that you recover fully and hastily as the program presenting your great labor of love with a reading and talkback – LEE AND ME: An Intimate Portrait of Lee Krasner – scheduled for the Drew this summer remains in the August “safe” zone of shows that we still very much intend to present once this rotten virus levels out. Ruth – ok – you never missed a memo before in the 16 years we worked together so I guess this once it’s allowable. Because in those 16 years I learned a lot from you – a lot about resiliency, tenacity, good humor in the face of ongoing challenge. I learned about diplomacy from you, and a lot about how to be an arts professional. You taught me about leadership and you taught me about loyalty, and while it’s true that we didn’t always see eye to eye, you were always kind to me and to all of your beloved staff. You invited us to your home, you encouraged us to excel and you were tireless in your devotion to Guild Hall. You held the lantern high, you lit the way for us, and we followed you over rocky paths and down gorgeous avenues and we didn’t waver because you didn’t waver. Ruth – I thank you for taking a chance on me as a young, green, untested artist when you entrusted me as steward of the Drew and I thank you for the genuine care and affection and love you’ve always shared with me and my family as we all grew in our 16-year journey together. Kate and Augie share this gratitude too, as you always made time for all three of us. Your recent work these last few years – devoted to your book and finishing it with such style – is yet another testament to your strength and determination. Ruth – I suspect you may not get this memo either, but please know, you made the lives of our artists, our audiences, your staff and their families so much better for holding up that lantern. With eternal love and appreciation, Josh.
Artistic Director of the John Drew Theater
I came back to work at Guild Hall in October of 2002. I had met Ruth at a party the year before and we had lunch shortly afterwards. Ruth had her perennial notebook with her and started asking questions and taking notes. We continued meeting monthly and discussing my return to GH. She was very organized in what she saw as everyone’s role and what they could do for GH. When I came back I was amazed that Ruth was there 7 days a week from 9am and was often the last to leave. I remember driving by at odd hours always seeing her car there.
Ruth would often ask questions that she knew the answer to but wanted to hear everyone’s opinion before deciding which way she needed to proceed in the best interest of GH. I remember early on she said that her job at GH was the best job that she ever had. I think she felt that till the very end. She loved being at GH, loved the museum, theater and education. Ruth cared about the artists in our community and tried to get them involved in whatever way she could think of.
She was always excited about artists and exhibition ideas that I had, she may not have liked all of them but she respected the passion behind what I was trying to accomplish. She saw us break some great boundaries such as our Barbara Kruger site specific installation and Early Video exhibition.
She loved the spotlight introducing the performers and having her picture taken. I would tease her privately if her picture wasn’t in Dan’s Paper that week!
We traveled to Washington DC together to a FAPE conference and had a wonderful time. She told me all about her childhood in DC, growing up, and her children. I remember her turning to me and saying you are a great mother! I think that for her generation it was not easy to have it all and I was delighted that she did get very close to her family.
Her dedication and commitment to GH will be her legacy.
Christina Mossaides Strassfield
Museum Director/Chief Curator
I have so many good memories of working with Ruth. As a board member during all of the 17 years Ruth was Executive Director, we spent a great of time together, and I got to know her and Gary well. We were friends, connecting on Guild Hall issues, but also in our personal lives.
Throughout, Ruth was a trooper, energetic, passionate, leader and just a magnet for supporters and staff. We worked together on many projects for Guild Hall and I saw firsthand how central she was to the growth and success of the cultural center and how much vision and imagination she possessed. This was especially evident every time she spoke at a Guild Hall event.
The standout project for me was my working with Ruth on the renovation of the building. We spent endless hours in East Hampton and New York planning, shopping, debating, worrying. The results of the effort brought great satisfaction to Ruth, to me, and to anyone visiting Guild Hall after the work was done.
Ruth set the foundation for the years to come and will be well remembered for her remarkable accomplishments and leadership.
Ruth was such a bright light!! She was an endless source of encouragement and energy. Guild Hall was so fortunate to have her at its helm for 17 years. We were all the beneficiaries of her guidance, intelligence, knowledge, and loving ways. She will be sorely missed.
What a terrible tragedy to hear of Ruth’s passing. Sandy and I were friends of hers for so many years and were so so impressed with her utter devotion to Guild Hall and her personal elegance. Her accomplishments during her tenure will be forever appreciated, and she will remain forever loved. How pleased she must have been to recognize our achievements of today.
Gary, you know my heart and thoughts are with you.
I loved working with Ruth all those years. She was an outstanding teacher of grace and fairness and optimism.
I can only image how you will miss her.
Yours fondly and please feel no need to acknowledge this note.
I think Josh said it well— certainly, Ruth knew how to raise money— and, spirits …She was the heart and soul of Guild Hall for so many years and her legacy will live on in the community’s enduring support for this wonderful organization.
Seeing this announcement this morning breaks my heart and I can only imagine how you feel learning about Ruth Appelhof crossing over. How precious she was as a friend and producer and wife and mother.
I got to know Ruth and her wonderful husband Gary doing all those fantastic songbook shows with Lee Davis and Patty Watt and beyond that with so many beloved artistic experiences at Guild Hall. I fell in love with her passion and love of the arts and her vast knowledge of contemporary art. She was also so generous with Gary to open their home and host my mother Arlene, whom they did not even know well, when mom came to hear me perform in recent years at Guild Hall.
How wonderful it was, and how proud we are of her ,that she was able, after going through her surgery and recovery, to finish her book on Lee Krasner and to travel to promote it, give talks on it in conjunction with international exhibitions of Krasner’s work recently. I know that thrilled her and gave her such as sense of accomplishment.
My heart is with Gary and Ruth’s family, with all her colleagues at Guild Hall and all who loved her as I, my mom Arlene and husband Scott did. What a bright light Ruth was in our lives. She will continue to shine in our hearts and encourage us on as she did with such, passion, authenticity, kindness and joie de vivre.
We love you, Ruth, stay close in spirit.