For Longtime UD Art Professor, Retirement Is Just the Beginning
Robert Straight, who taught art and design at the University of Delaware for 36 years, continues to create with vigor.
Robert Straight // Courtesy of Olivia Mann
When Robert Straight was a child, his mother took him on “fabric expeditions” all around Texas to find pieces for her tailoring job. He saw art in the textiles that constantly surrounded him and was inspired to take his hobby of drawing to the next level.
Straight studied art at California State University, Long Beach, and went to graduate school at Cranbrook Academy of Art. He taught art and design at the University of Delaware for the past 36 years but retired this fall.
As a painter and sculptor, Straight depicts visual invention in his pieces.
“Rather than recreating things we already see in this world, I build upon those things to create something [that is] related to the world in a way, but is its own creation,” he says.
Straight's art has evolved over time. As an undergrad, he was influenced more by representational art, specifically figure drawing. In graduate school, he was exposed to more abstraction.
“As time went on, I did more work that wasn’t exclusively representational, like changing a figure into mechanical creatures,” he says. “My work slowly started to look like the art in the movie 'Yellow Submarine' about The Beatles—and it gets even more abstract each time I create.”
Straight’s studio sits in a garden in Wilmington and is covered with ivy. His admiration for the surrounding nature motivates him to create.
“I was never good at math but recently I’ve become interested in number sequences, and that shows up in plants in the way the leaves are arranged around the stem,” he says. “In starting work, I’ll start with a number system in some way and move from there.”
Crayon sketches on computer paper adorn Straight's studio wall. “My granddaughter inspires me with me these projects she does in her art course,” he says. “She’s very inventive, so sometimes I say to myself, ‘I should try to be as free as Romy.’”
Though Straight is predominantly a painter, he recently took up sculpting. He uses objects such as swimming pool noodles, balloons covered in paper mâché, tree branches and plastic containers.
“These things are used all the time, and most people don’t see them as being designed—but someone had to make them and give them a purpose,” he says. “I see them as having more than one purpose.”
Straight's favorite part about being a professor? Seeing how his students interpreted assignments in their own way.
Over the last 20 years of teaching, Straight kept every gradebook from every class he taught. He recently started a project using pages from them as the background on a canvas.
“It’s sort of like [my students] can become a part of my art,” he says. “I hope they don’t mind.”
Though Straight is no longer teaching, he feels as active as ever because he has more time.
“I’m retired from the university but not from the studio,” he says, smiling widely. “I will continue to create artwork for the rest of my life.”