Former Guild Hall Executive Director, from 1999–2016, Ruth Appelhof died at her home in Springs on Thursday, April 2 following a two-year battle with leukemia. She was 81.
Along with her 17 years of important contributions to Guild Hall in East Hampton, Appelhof was an art history scholar with a PhD from Syracuse University, a Fellow at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, and author of Lee & Me: An Intimate Portrait of Lee Krasner (Officina Libraria), which will be published on May 19. She leaves behind her loving husband of 22 years, Gary Adamek and two children, Gregory and Lee Ann, from a previous marriage.
Appelhof, who aptly called herself an “arts leader” on her website, ruthappelhof.com, wrote her doctoral dissertation on American Modernism and began her museum career as a Helena Rubenstein Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her passion for art and her work led her to direct museums across the country and teach art history and various museum-related subjects at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
But the work Appelhof did for Guild Hall, and by extension the community, cemented her reputation as a beloved and respected figure on the East End. Guild Hall’s staff and board members sent an email tribute to their late Executive Director Emeritus on Friday, lauding her accomplishments and lasting impact on the local arts institution. She is credited with guiding a major capital renovation to completion in 2010, creating an artist in-residence program, and making Guild Hall’s offerings more affordable and available for year-round residents.
Messages from former colleagues and friends, as seen on Guild Hall’s evolving page of remembrances, describe a woman who loved her job and was fully dedicated to making Guild Hall the best it could be, starting with the fact that “She loved Guild Hall with every fiber of her being and she happily worked and greeted visitors, often seven-days-a-week.”
Current Guild Hall Executive Director Andrea Grover, who succeeded Appelhof in 2016, writes, “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,” adding, “It was evident that her heart and soul were tied enduringly to this institution.”
Chief Curator and Museum Director, Christina Strassfield points out Appelhof’s love for and commitment to Guild Hall and its staff, noting, “Ruth cared about the artists in our community and tried to get them involved in whatever way she could think of.”
Appelhof’s Deputy Director throughout her 17 years at Guild Hall, Jeannine Dyner writes, “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!”
In addition to those she worked with daily at Guild Hall, Appelhof earned admiration from some of the Hamptons’ most celebrated artists and celebrity residents who care about the arts.
On Monday, former Guild Hall Board President and staunch supporter Alec Baldwin lamented Appelhof’s death and his inability to visit her at the end due to her particular vulnerability to the coronavirus. “She was a very good friend. We remained friends after she left that job and I was going to help her do some Q&A programming from Barnes & Noble about her book,” Baldwin said. “She was such a warm and very winning person. She was really very easy to work with. Always quick with a smile, and was just a very easy person to be around,” the actor and Amagansett resident added, also pointing out Appelhof’s warmth, positivity and talent for raising money in spite of challenging circumstances. “She was a great, great lady. I liked her a lot.”
North Haven artist April Gornik writes of her friend, “Ruth inspired me. Her last years were spent impressively and productively working on her important book Lee and Me: An Intimate Portrait of Lee Krasner. She was a fighter and a positive force in the universe, and her sense of humor and love of life were always in evidence.”
When Appelhof was given a surprise Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, her friend Sarah Jessica Parker presented the honor, saying at the time, “Ruth Appelhof has done so much for the East End she should be named permanent cultural ambassador for life.” Appelhoff liked the quote so much, she displayed it with a photo of her and Parker on the “About” page of her website.
That same website shows Appelhoff’s excitement about publishing her book, Lee & Me: An Intimate Portrait of Lee Krasner, which recalls her summer staying with and interviewing abstract artist Lee Krasner, widow of Jackson Pollock, as a graduate student in 1974. Like Baldwin, Guild Hall had plans to help the author promote her memoir with a talk at the John Drew Theater, as part of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center Lecture Series. While that will not happen as originally intended, Guild Hall says they will celebrate Appelhof’s remarkable life and legacy after they reopen.
Share your memories of Ruth Appelhof at guildhall.org/ruthappelhof.