University of Maine at Presque Isle Class of 2016 graduate Emma Ruff had little time to celebrate her Bachelor of Fine Art degree after this year’s Commencement Exercises: she went straight to work fulfilling a Lunder Fashion and Textile Arts Internship that she was awarded from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston This internship, in the David and Roberta Logie Department of Textile and Fashion Arts, brings together the experience Ruff has earned through her degree in Fine Arts from UMPI and her lifelong passion for fashion.
During this internship, which began on May 31 and ends in mid-August, Ruff is exploring potential museum careers that align with her education and interests. This internship also gives her workplace exposure, job readiness coaching, museum-specific skills, and professional development training. Ruff is working on a variety of projects throughout the summer. She has had the chance to assist curators within the TFA department with the process of deaccessioning, work in-depth with the patterns and designs of the late fashion designer Mr. Arnold Scaasi, and other various tasks such as analyzing and assessing 18th-19th century textiles.
“I am in a constant state of ‘pinch me now,’” Ruff said. “I feel incredibly fortunate to be working in such a prestigious department of the museum, surrounded by a brilliant, kind, and inspiring curatorial staff. Each day brings on new opportunities to learn about the ins and outs of this particular field. I am in a beautiful city and working a job that I wake up excited for, on a daily basis. Boston, the city, the people, and the culture is a steady source of inspiration for me.”
Ruff was born in Fredericton, N.B., and raised in Quispamsis, N.B. She has loved fashion since she was a little girl.
“The Lunder Fashion and Textile Arts Internship is extremely competitive and highly sought after. The UMPI Art Program is extremely proud of Emma for the work she’s doing in her internship and also for what she’s been able to accomplish during her college career,” Hyrum Benson, UMPI Assistant Professor of Art, said. “We try hard to ensure that all of our Art majors are able to find ways to focus on what they’re passionate about, and we’re really pleased Emma was able to do that and now participate in an internship that lets her explore the connection between fashion and art even further.”
While the University does not offer a degree focused on fashion, Ruff was able to find many ways to express her interest in the industry during her years on campus. She had the opportunity to organize the Trash to Fashion show in honor of Earth Day in April of this year. The event challenged designers to use different materials to make fashion pieces. The outfits had to be made out of 75% recycled material. The items that could be used included: milk cartons and lids, plastic, used clothing, cereal and egg cartons, used toys, candy wrappers, tetra packs, household appliances, CD’s, cassettes, and VHS tapes. Around 20 budding designers took part in the show, showcasing entries that ranged from haute couture to ready to wear.
Ruff also brought the world of fashion and social justice into her Senior Thesis Exhibition, the capstone course for her BFA degree. She researched the news story from 2013 about Rana Plaza, an eight-story clothing factory in Savar Upazila, Dhaka, Bangladesh, that collapsed and killed 1,134 people. This tragedy, one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, prompted her to look deeper into the fashion industry. Her thesis was based around how people can become conscious consumerists. Ruff wanted to emphasize the importance of knowing where your clothes come from and the human aspect behind that process, bringing the harsh realities of sweatshops to the viewer’s mind. She even contacted a photographer from the New York Times, Ismail Ferdous, and spoke to him about his experience as the photographer on site that fateful day. A few of his photos can be seen within one of her pieces, touching on the importance of artists coming together to speak about global issues.
Ruff was also able to bring her education and love for fashion together with something else she is very passionate about: mental health. Ruff was recently featured as a Role Model with Wear Your Label. The creators of this fashion brand are on a mission to use fashion to end the stigma around mental illness. The Role Models wear a piece of this brand’s clothing that they feel represents their journey. Ruff believes that human connection is very important in a battle with the mind. Her hope is to end the stigma around mental health so that people who are struggling are not afraid to speak up and tell their stories.
All of these experiences have helped Ruff to prepare for the internship she is completing now in Boston and a future that she hopes will connect in some way with the world of fashion. Ruff said she is very grateful to her alma mater for providing opportunities for her to pursue her passions while getting a degree.
“I was constantly being supported by my professors in all my creative endeavors,” Ruff said. “I would typically take a spin on each assignment, molding it to suit my aesthetic with fashion design. They were nothing but helpful. I believe that, as a student, we have the power to mold our educations to what we like to do or find ourselves passionate about. There are ways to create an educational experience that is beneficial to your direct interests and intentions. In my case, creating works of fashion while advocating for a world issue that is ever present in our society.”