As luster fades, silversmith faces eviction

Otto Suchy has gone broke. Otto Suchy has gone broke.
By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / November 29, 2009

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NORWOOD - Otto Suchy has spent a lifetime rescuing treasures from ruin. The sculptor and silversmith restored a 3,000-year-old bracelet that was caked in rust and a mangled bronze candlestick that someone had run over with a car. He has lifted the tarnish from suits of armor and restored the gleam to a silver sword.

Even his beloved wife, Vicky, who died on Christmas Eve two years ago after a long illness, lived under his care longer than her doctors had predicted.

But Suchy is having trouble saving himself now.

As the economy plunged, the 73-year-old ornate metal restorer, who fled Communist Czechoslovakia in 1968, quietly went broke. He was evicted from his Norwood apartment two weeks ago; the remnants of his 47-year marriage are in storage and will be sold off in six months. Tomorrow night, the end of the month, he said, he will be kicked out of his shop of 18 years, where he has been sleeping illegally on a thin mattress on the floor.

In recent days, a small assembly of customers have been trying to help him find a new place to live.

“This is a catastrophe,’’ said Suchy, sitting at his desk wearing a stained white coat and black beret, his blue eyes reddened and bristly white beard stained yellow with cigarette smoke.

Suchy is tall and still strapping, with a firm handshake, an irrepressible wit, and an Old World charm that makes customers melt when he calls them “madam’’ in his accented English.

He was an artist when he and his wife fled Czechoslovakia in 1968 for Vienna, then for Canada, and finally, to the United States. He became a legal permanent resident here in 1982, and worked for almost five years at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester before moving to Brookline, then to Norwood to set up his own shop.

His tiny storefront shop, which he calls The Suchy Conservation Laboratory, on Washington Street is a portrait of clutter and grime, with faded wood paneling, a water-stained ceiling, and dust-coated jars of solutions and powders, many labeled in Czech. It is filled with the smoke of Pall Malls and Lucky Strikes.

In this workshop, he created beauty for others.

The examples are tucked in a photo album on his desk: Muskets and music boxes, candelabras and chandeliers, sconces and swords - all restored to their former glory. He transformed oil-powered lamps salvaged from a train into furnishings for a customer’s living room, and cleaned years of tarnish off vases. He also said he restored some weapons that are on display in Faneuil Hall.

He jokes that he saves lives, such as those of the young customers who showed up years ago with a broken family heirloom.

“They said, ‘Mr. Suchy, if you don’t fix it by Saturday, our mother-in-law will kill us,’ ’’ he said with a laugh.

Asked what happens to the artifacts if he makes a mistake, he looked puzzled.

“I don’t know,’’ he said. “I don’t do it wrong.’’

Sometimes he suggests to customers that restoration is too pricey, but he understands when they are willing to pay hundreds of dollars to save a family heirloom.

“I’m attached to my tools that way. My father gave them to me,’’ he said. “They mean a lot to me.’’

But as the economy soured, fewer people appeared at his door. He used to earn as much as $300 a day. This month he earned $570, far below the monthly rent of $1,000. He owed $4,000 rent on the shop alone.

He said he did not made plans to leave, because he had hoped that someone would come in with a job.

Restoring one suit of armor - a $10,000 to $12,000 job - could cover the rent he owes.

“I was hoping this will improve,’’ he said.

Suchy has no children, just a younger brother in New Jersey, but they are estranged. He has two sisters in Czechoslovakia who urged him to come home, but he said he declined.

“I’ve been here a long time. I would miss everything, even the TV, with their lousy programming,’’ he joked. “I would miss it.’’

As word has leaked out about his situation, several customers are rallying to help him. Some have brought him food. Others are helping him to apply for government-subsidized housing. They say a visit to his shop is like traveling to Old World Europe, and they would miss him if he left.

“He’s really the last of a kind,’’ said Geoffrey Stein, a Boston-based photographer who is trying to find Suchy a place to live.

Stein said he offered to pay a month’s rent so Suchy could pack, but Stein said the owner’s representative refused. Stein found out Suchy was nearly homeless when Stein’s wife called the shop on Thanksgiving to find out if they were still open. To her surprise, Suchy answered, and offered to fix what they needed that day.

Stein contacted Mark Silverman, the owner of Mark’s Moving in Norwood, and he offered to move Suchy’s belongings into storage for free.

City officials are aware of his plight, Stein said, and are trying to get him into subsidized housing.

Barry Hoffman, a longtime customer of Suchy’s, has tried to help.

“If this thing goes through, he’ll just disappear and won’t that be a tragedy?’’ he said.

Douglas David, who said he represents the trust that owns the building, declined to comment yesterday.

Suchy was matter-of-fact about his predicament.

“The people who kicked me out are not guilty, really,’’ he said. “I didn’t pay rent for four months. They were waiting, waiting. The business went down and I couldn’t afford it.’’

But he is grateful for the help of his customers, who had turned to him many times in the past.

Suchy is far more accustomed to being the one who saves the day.

“It’s a hard feeling,’’ he said. “I’ve never had it before.’’

Maria Sacchetti can be reached at