Jewelery designer and philanthropist Ruth Frank has died at 99
Ruth Frank, a larger-than-life member of the Ohringer family who rose to fame in Pittsburgh and beyond for her unusual jewelry designs, died peacefully of natural causes at her home in Longboat Key, Fla., On June 13. She was 99.
Born in Pittsburgh to the late Abe and Helen Ohringer, Frank was married for over 60 years to James A. Frank, who predeceased her in 2004. She was the brave and energetic “yin” of the more stoic and reserved “yang” by James. and both were the lifelong loves of the other, according to family members.
Frank “was a real Pittsburgher,” his granddaughter, Jonsara Ruth, told The Chronicle. “She was born and raised in Pittsburgh and was very proud of Pittsburgh.”
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A resident of Squirrel Hill for much of her life, Frank also had roots in Braddock, where her parents operated the Orhinger Furniture Store, one of the few furniture stores the family owned locally. The eight-story store, which once stood in a busy business corridor on Braddock Avenue, has been vacant for several years and is currently undergoing a $ 10 million renovation that will create nearly 40 artist residencies affordable, studio and one-bedroom units.
Frank and her husband enjoyed visiting counties in the Middle and Far East including China, Afghanistan and Iran.
Frank, who traveled abroad every year, collected small artifacts and decorative items from his travels and used them to create interesting necklaces and earrings.
“They just had an urge to travel and a curiosity about the culture and the world – and they kept bringing it back,” said Ruth, who, like Frank, is an artist and designer. “She was my main inspiration in life – [she had] this idea that you could do anything for a living if you imagined it.
“My grandmother was 50 when I was born, so for 20 years I felt like I had two mothers,” Frank’s grandson Adam Lippard said. “She was extraordinarily involved in my life… She had an indelible mark on my life and my soul.”
Shadyside gallery owner Ellen Chisdes Neuber sold many of Frank’s pieces to Studio / GalleriE CHIZ, which opened in 1995 and moved to her longtime home on Ellsworth Avenue a year later.
Having met Frank through a friend, Neuberg said she was blown away by Frank’s jewelry. In no time, Neuberg was at the home of Frank Darlington Road – an awe-inspiring modernist work designed by Frank and architect Harry Lefkowitz – choosing works to be sold on consignment.
“She had such a collection – I was just blown away,” Neuberg told The Chronicle. “[Her necklaces] were very impressive and I sold them like crazy. She had these jewels, these stones. She would mix things up. I had never seen anything like it.
Frank also sold his designs at Saks Fifth Avenue stores across the country, his family said. In the late 1970s, Frank was cited by Vogue magazine as the first American jewelry designer to mix “ethnic” objects from far away lands into unique, individual necklaces, a trend that continues today. His global design influences ranged from intricately hand-carved silver beads to elaborate Hindu temples.
Ruth was “a shameless sportswoman,” according to Jed Lippard, her grandson. A competitive golfer and tennis player, she was proud to stay active. Until 2020, Frank swam for hours a day and trained with a personal trainer three times a week, making her appear as a “remarkable resident in her 90s” in a 2016 Longboat Observer cover story. .
Frank was also a generous philanthropist.
“She spent countless hours each week studying reviews of nonprofits and writing checks for the many people who met her strict criteria,” Jed Lippard wrote in an obituary released by the family.
Frank has also combined art and philanthropy with the Women’s Division of the United Jewish Federation (now the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh) and the Ladies Hospital Aid Society, according to Eric Lidji, director of the Rauh Jewish History Program and Archives. She often chaired or assisted in art shows or exhibitions for these organizations, and served on the Decorations Committee for the LHAS Montefiore Ball.
Ultimately, however, his own art leaves the biggest imprint behind.
Jill Whittaker, a goldsmith or “bench worker” from Baldwin Borough, helped assemble Frank’s creations for about 30 years after Frank laid out the individual pieces on planks like museum pieces.
“Originally, she put them together and wore them herself. [and] enough people liked what she had done and asked her to do a track for them, ”said Whittaker. “It kind of sprouted from there. So many of these things were so beautiful.
The thing that touched Whittaker the most about his fellow artist, however, was that Frank “was definitely a Jewish mother.” Whittaker recalled working with necklaces at Frank’s, 1940s music blaring in the background, while the creator performed with Whittaker’s children.
“She loved playing with my kids, my babies,” Whittaker said. “She was dancing and singing with the baby in there – she was definitely the life of the party.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.