Tarah Jean | Tallahassee Democrat
Florida A&M University graduate Elijah Rutland recently returned to where his journey toward becoming an acclaimed artist began – on campus.
His return was as a commissioned designer featured by Xfinity to produce almost a dozen of his handcrafted works of art on just as many college campuses.
Through Xfinity’s HBCU (Historically Black College and University) tour — a project that will visit 11 campuses to highlight Black artists, filmmakers, musicians and content creators — Rutland has created murals to be unveiled on each campus.
The tour began Friday with FAMU being the first stop.
“It was a full circle moment for me,” said 23-year-old Rutland, a Macon, Georgia native. “It was my first time back on campus after graduating, and it was like returning to where everything started in a way.”
Rutland graduated in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication.
“I’m always proud when alumni like Elijah comes back to showcase what they do and show students what they can become,” said School of Journalism and Graphic Communication Dean Mira Lowe. “It’s very inspiring and motivational for our students, and it means a lot to me as a dean to see alums give back to a school they went to.”
Rutland’s mural was shown during the FAMU’s traditional weekly social event, Set Friday, which was held near the Will Packer Performing Arts Amphitheater.
The FAMU mural, which was only up for the duration of the tour stop, is a compilation of characteristics about the university. The black and white 8-foot by 20-foot art piece includes the eternal flame, the Rattler mascot, a Marching 100 band hat, a chicken drumstick to represent the traditional “Fried Chicken Wednesday” the Rattler statue, and the “FAMU Way” road sign.
“It was all based on different meanings that relate to FAMU, student life and my experiences as a student as well,” Rutland said. The mural took him about a week to complete, and the 11 pieces altogether took him about a month as he finished the last mural Tuesday.
Xfinity and marketing agency Riddle and Bloom, which focuses on connecting students and young adults with different types of brands, commissioned Rutland an amount of $24,000 for the tour.
The marketing company researched artists with links to the 11 universities and found Rutland to be “a perfect fit for the project,” said Riddle and Bloom Account Manager Megan Ellis.
“It’s been really great to get to work with such a talented artist that works with our mission and really understands the heart that’s behind HBCU pride,” said Ellis, who was on campus Friday. “We felt that he could really speak to the college experience that we’re trying to uplift and amplify.”
During the event, students and others passing by signed Rutland’s mural, where they either wrote their name, their social media handles or a comment about what attending an HBCU means to them.
Elijah Rutland, a ‘creative genius’
Rutland is the founder of the brand Fix My Sole, where he focuses on customizing sneakers and vintage clothing items such as T-shirts.
He returned to FAMU’s campus from a four-day visit to Washington D.C., where he was hosted by Howard University President Wayne Frederick and School of Fine Arts Dean and well-known actress Phylicia Allen-Rashad as they got to know more about him and his business.
“It was great,” Rutland said. “A similar feel to being at FAMU.”
From designing headphones for Beats by Dre to having art deals with the NBA and the NFL, Rutland said he uses his talent to “create a visual representation of his thoughts.”
But while at FAMU, his involvement went beyond using his gifted hands to create masterpieces. He was a member of the Beta Nu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and was also a trumpet player in the university’s Marching 100 band.
“Elijah has distinguished himself as a creative genius,” Lowe said. “He’s using his art to elevate and educate the masses, and he’s using his talent to amplify voices of his generation.”
Following his appearance at FAMU, Rutland’s next tour stop was at Bowie State University in Maryland Tuesday.
Once the HBCU tour comes to an end, Rutland plans to focus on his Fix My Sole business and art projects that include designing more vintage clothes. He will also be working with Pohanka Automotive Group through his recent role as its national brand ambassador, where he creates content on social media for the company’s brand.
Here are the remaining locations and dates of the tour:
- Howard University – Sept. 1
- Morgan State University – Sept. 2
- Delaware State University – Sept. 7
- Texas Southern University – Sept. 12
- Atlanta University Center Consortium – Sept. 16
- Edward Waters University – Sept. 20
- Savannah State University – Sept. 21
- Florida Memorial University – to be determined
- Jackson State University – to be determined