Beloved Sag Harbor artist Reynold Ruffins died at age 91 on Sunday, July 11. He leaves behind a daughter, Lynn Ruffins Cave, three sons, Todd, Ben and Seth Ruffins, and six grandchildren, while his wife Joan predeceased him in 2013.
A well-respected and well-liked painter, illustrator and graphic designer, Ruffins co-founded Push Pin Studios, one of the nation’s most prestigious art firms, with Milton Glaser, Edward Sorel and Seymour Chwast in 1954. Together, the artists created memorable logos and designs for blue-chip clients, such as IBM, AT&T, Coca-Cola, CBS, Pfizer, The New York Times, Scribners, Random House, Time Life, Fortune, Gourmet Magazine and the U.S. Post Office. Ruffins also illustrated more than 20 children’s books and collaborated with Whoopi Goldberg and jazz legend Herbie Hancock on a children’s video, Koi and the Kola Nuts.
A graduate of NYC’s prestigious Cooper Union, Ruffins earned numerous awards including Cooper Union’s Presidential Citation and the school’s Augustus St. Gaudens Award for outstanding professional achievement in the arts. He was also honored with The New York Art Directors Club Award, The Society of Illustrators’ Silver Medal and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his children’s books and he was a professor emeritus at Queens College, CUNY. He also taught at the School of Visual Arts and The Parsons-New School of Design, and was a visiting adjunct professor at Syracuse University.
As a fine artist, Ruffins moved away from the narrative illustration that brought him to prominence and instead focused on shape and color in expressionistic drawings and acrylic paintings. During his long career, the artist showed in internationally recognized group exhibitions in Milan, Bologna, Tokyo and the Louvre museum in Paris, France, along with numerous local exhibitions, bringing joy and wonder to the Sag Harbor and East End community.
Ruffins painted a Dan’s Papers cover in 2016. Two years later, while discussing a 15-year retrospective of his work at Sag Harbor’s John Jermain Memorial Library, the artist told us he enjoyed painting so much that he no longer had interest in creating representational work for other people.
“The kind of freedom that I have as a painter comes because I’m working only for myself,” he explained, pointing out that he was no longer executing anyone else’s vision. “It’s only for the pleasure of design, color and line,” Ruffins said. “I can do things so differently and so much more freely.”
He will be missed.