By Bob Cooley
From the cramped alleyway converted into her shop, The Silversmith, at 184 ¾ West 4th St., Ruth Kuzub was a quaint artist and curiosity to the tourists who flooded the neighborhood every year.
But to us, she’s a legend with an incredible story who made an indelible impact on the history, culture and life of Greenwich Village.
An Activist, Performer, Artist, Important figure in the LGBT culture and friend to many, Ruth passed away at 90 years old on the first weekend of May due to pneumonia and a long bout with cancer which she developed while helping people near ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001.
Born on August 9th, 1930, Ruth moved to NYC in the early 50s to pursue her dreams of performing in the city. While dancing at legendary nightclubs like the Copacabana, she landed a role in the original production of Fanny on Broadway with Florence Henderson and Ezio Pinza.
In the early 60s she took over the storefront on West 4th, in the heyday of the queer art scene in the Village. Five decades later, her shop was the last from that bygone age.
During her many years at the shop, she was a dedicated, active and outspoken member of Greenwich Village, the LGBTQ community and social justice causes. Her letters to the media and notes from the minutes of city council and local board meetings can still be found all over the internet.
She actively mentored dozens of young artists over the decades at her shop, who would work for her, and kept up correspondence with many of them for years after.
She could be found many nights after work at Five Oaks and Marie’s Crisis having a drink, and often singing a song.
“In her 60s she fell in love with Ireland,” said her long-time friend and ‘adopted brother’ Michael Webb who now lives there. “I took her there for the first time in 1996, and she made many trips back, where she found a love of Celtic jewelry, and in her last trip here, I had the honor of having her be my Best Mate at my wedding.”
Suwat Charnond, friend of five decades who sometimes helped her at The Silversmith said of her, “Ruth loved life, and was very kind and generous to both people and her pets—she loved animals. She was always ready for an interesting conversation, and always had treats for any pets brought to the shop. She rode her old bicycle from her home on Perry St. all over the city and every day to her shop.” While it is impossible to summarize the gifts and joy her life brought to all of those around her in a mere 467 words, our feelings about her can be summed up in just one: Missed.
Bob Cooley is a photojournalist and communications strategist who lives in the West Village. He’s spent over 30 years creating photography and stories for publications including LIFE Magazine, Forbes, The Economist, Sports Illustrated, The Associated Press, and many others. You can see more of Bob’s work at www.bobcooleyphoto.com and new photography daily on Instagram @bobcooley