Never Too Late to Learn: Jewelry maker completes BFA in Studio Art at age 72
Robert Lincoln Straight, oldest graduate in the CLASS Spring 2014 Commencement exercises, will earn MFA next
A heart bypass surgery 10 years ago prompted Robert Lincoln Straight to reprioritize his life.
“After the surgery, I figured that my life must have been saved for a reason,” Straight said. “So, I decided to go back to school.
On May 9, 2014, at the age of 72 Straight graduates with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art with a concentration in sculpture. He is the oldest student in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences to complete his degree this semester.
“I’m still trying to figure out exactly what my purpose is,” he said, “but I’ve had a great time completing my education.”
Straight graduated from Houston’s Milby High School in 1959 and immediately went to work as a cabinet maker’s apprentice. In the 1960s, he took a few classes at UH and the Museum of Fine Arts’ Glassell School of Art, but his education often took a back seat to his other interests – making art and scuba diving.
Straight started using glass as his primary artistic medium and accumulating enough underwater hours to become a scuba instructor. Eventually, he managed to merge his two passions into a successful career by creating jewelry for scuba divers.
“I got into jewelry making by accident while taking classes at Glassell,” said Straight. “One of the other courses I wanted to take was unavailable, so I had to take a jewelry making class. I really liked it.”
Straight’s niche jewelry line became successful. He started out going to scuba diving trade shows to sell his jewelry, up to six a year. Then, he turned the line into a profitable mail-order business.
“After a while, you couldn’t go on a diving excursion without seeing someone wearing a piece of my jewelry,” he said.
He was commissioned to create the official trophy for the Scuba Diving Hall of Fame. The best scuba divers in the world had Straight’s trophies, including the famed Jacques Cousteau.
When Straight’s surgery shocked him into reevaluate his priorities, he started with modest educations goals. First, he completed his art certification at Glassell. From there, he attended Houston Community College before transferring to the School of Art at UH.
Straight fully immersed himself in his college experience. He studied abroad in Greece. He took art history courses and started sculpting with steel. He is now completing projects that incorporate steel and glass in the same piece of artwork.
“I’ve always been self-employed and self-motivated, so going to school wasn’t a problem,” said Straight. “This was more fun than work – I’d do it again!”
In fact, Straight is doing it again. He’s been accepted into the Master of Fine Arts program at Houston Baptist University and will begin classes there next fall. As a graduate student, Straight hopes to develop a way of blowing glass without a furnace.
Straight’s wife has been his biggest supporter throughout his experience. She, too, is a college student enrolled at UH-Downtown in business classes.
“It’s been fun going to school with kids my grandkids’ age. I’ve met a great group of people, they’re really smart, creative and fun,” said Straight. “I am a firm believer that you should never stop learning.”
- By Monica Byars