Obituary | Joseph "Joe" M. Ruffo

· 3 min read

Obituary | Joseph “Joe” M. Ruffo

Mug shot of Joe Ruffo

Joseph M. Ruffo, 80, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, retired professor and chair of art and art history, died Aug. 30.

Born in Norwich, Connecticut, Ruffo’s early memories include living with his grandfather on a cove. During that time, he enjoyed growing tomatoes and taking a rowboat out in search for clams.

A move to Miami as a teenager allowed Ruffo to attend Miami Beach High School, where he met a teacher who kindled his creativity. He graduated from Miami High in 1959 and went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts from New York’s Pratt Institute and a Master of Fine Arts from Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art.

In 1963, Ruffo served as a Fulbright Scholar in Brazil. The experience led to a lifetime love for orchids.

Ruffo’s professional career spanned 43 years at various colleges and universities. He was an accomplished administrator whose leadership contributed to faculty, student and institutional success.

At the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, he was chair of the then Department of Art and Art History (now Art, Art History and Design). He also served as a professor of art and director of the Eisentrager•Howard Gallery.

In addition to degree program improvements at Nebraska, Ruffo initiated and managed a multimillion-dollar renovation and design of art and art history facilities.

Prior to Nebraska, Ruffo was chair of art at both the University of Northern Iowa and Barry University in Miami. He also taught at the Memphis College of Art.

In addition to his academic work, Ruffo served as president of the Lincoln Arts Council and a member of the Public Arts Lincoln board and the board of advisers of the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. He served on the board of directors of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, which accredits art programs in higher education. He served as an accreditation reviewer for the Pennsylvania Academy of Art and Design and many other schools of art across the country, working intensively to bring art departments up to the NASAD standards of education.

Ruffo’s studio work focused on painting and drawing on paper and designing and publishing limited-edition books. His book awards include: The Chicago Book Clinic Exhibition Award of Honor for “A Book of Things” by Ted Kooser and “Quintet No. 3” by Randall Snyder. His graphic design work included 23 Cliff’s Notes covers.

In 2020, he received the Lincoln Arts Council Legacy of the Arts Award and in 2004 the Mayor’s Arts Award.

Ruffo, whose education and early career was as a printmaker, died of a rare blood disease tied to the chemical benzene. The chemical was used for the cleaning of ink from steel plates employed in the etching process. This chemical is now banned for that purpose. Ruffo was instrumental in promoting the use of safe materials and practices in both the construction of the art building at the University of Northern Iowa and the remodeling of Nebraska U’s Richards Hall.

Ruffo is survived by his wife, Judith; daughter, Amy; son-in-law, Howard Montgomery; granddaughter, Inez Montgomery; sister, Diane Ruffo-Nash; brother in- law, Paul Harrison; and cat, Beau Ruffo.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sept. 24 in Richards Hall’s Eisentrager•Howard Gallery. Memorials are requested to UNL’s School of Art, Art History and Design at Nebraska; Lincoln Arts Council; or the KNH Center for the Arts in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

Online condolences can be left through the Snyder Funeral Home.

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