A Fine Art degree student at East Sussex College has become one of the UK’s oldest graduates at the age of 96.
Archie White, who was born in 1925, has lived an incredible life and worked as a solicitor up to the age of 92.
He started his BA (Hons) degree in 2018 and wanted to explore the works of some of the finest artists in history. Archie has always had a love for painting but really enjoyed the challenge of learning new skills in pottery, traditional photography methods, and learning the basics of Photoshop.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed studying here, and the experiences have been fascinating, but learning Photoshop left me dazed,” joked Archie.
Archie continued, “A friend of mine studied here the year before me, and she was quite enjoying it, so that gave me the idea when I retired as a solicitor to come here and do the BA Fine Art degree.
“The first year included a series of more or less introductory courses to the Fine Arts. So we dabbled in Photography and making negatives, then we did clay modelling, which was great fun. Then we learned Photoshop, which was fun, but not really for me.”
At 96 years and 56 days, Archie is thought to be the oldest person in the UK to complete a degree. At the time of submitting his final piece of work to the University of Brighton exam board, Archie was just 145 days short of being a world record holder, which stands at 96 years and 200 days from a graduate in Japan.
Archie said he wasn’t too bothered about any records and was just really pleased to have been a part of the course.
Archie said, “I’m finishing, if I’m lucky, my degree this summer, which I have thoroughly enjoyed, even though I’m 96. I’m not too bothered about being the oldest graduate or not. I’ve just enjoyed being part of the course.
“There is no doubt that I have had great help and great pleasure here. Having had a stroke about five years ago, it’s limited certain abilities; most particularly, I cannot manage terribly well in the dark. When I was required to work in the dark room, I found it difficult. But I was helped enormously by the staff and the other pupils.”
Archie has an incredibly humble and generous nature and shows no signs of slowing down now that he has finished his degree. His next venture is to set up a charity to help other graduates as they start their careers.
Archie said, “I shall carry on painting now that I have finished. If anyone is foolish enough to pay me for my paintings, I shall be amused, but if they don’t, it doesn’t matter.
“I’ve had a long and enjoyable career, but one of the things I am most concerned about is for most people graduating, there is an inevitability almost, of them failing to make a living as an artist, a potter, photographer or modeller. That is why I am planning to create a charity to support graduates.
“I have received a great deal of support in the notion, which I am waiting for final clearance from the Charity Commission to run the charity at East Sussex College Hastings, so that people who graduate are not lost.
“People who don’t have the money and the opportunity to rent a studio or create one at home can come back to the college and work in the pottery department, or the photographers in the photography department, or printers in the printing room. We have great facilities here, and they are not used to their full potential.
“We will arrange to have a studio here for them and provide materials for nothing. Canvases, paints, brushes, camera equipment are all extremely expensive, so this will help enormously. If we have sufficient money, which I am sure we shall, we will also be able to assist them in attending exhibitions locally and nationally at places like The Tate, or The National or wherever.”
Hannah Birkett, BA (Hons) Fine Art course leader at East Sussex College, said, “It has been an absolute pleasure to teach Archie over the last three years. He brings a unique contribution to the course, and his personal development has been extraordinary.
“Archie has refined his painting practice in a supportive, diverse year group, and has been an active contributor to discussion and debate. We have thoroughly enjoyed working with him, and wish him all the best for the future.”
Archie was able to exhibit his final major project paintings at the End of Year Art Degree show at the end of June to round off his final year. He will now continue to work on setting up the charity before hopefully attending his graduation ceremony later this year.
Archie is proof that age is just a number and you are never too old to learn.