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A festival of creativity

Edinburgh College of Art’s theatrical fancy-dress extravaganza, the Revel is the subject of a new exhibition at the University’s main library.

1934 ECA Revel
1934 Revel. Image courtesy of University of Edinburgh Collections.

‘Brown Paper and Imagination: Revealing the Edinburgh College of Art Revel’ draws from the Edinburgh College of Art archive and includes unique photographs of students at the Revel from the 1910s to the 1970s, a range of colourful ticket and programme designs, and a costume thought to have been part of the 1951 Revel - which had a Knights of the Round Table theme.

There is minimal interpretation; leaving the objects to speak for themselves. What guidance exists is created through the presentation of extracts from the 1940s Edinburgh College of Art Student’s Handbook and the Scotsman Newspaper.

Inspiration

The exhibition and the collection isn’t just a window into the past but a source for current students, who have used the objects as inspiration for their own art work and more recent Revels.

Using the Revel as a catalyst for ideas isn’t a recent innovation. Staff films made in the 1940s were used by the College in the 1950s and 60s to prompt creative responses and ignite grand ambitions for their annual celebration.

DIY ethic

The Revels depicted by the exhibition are rooted in a culture of making. Brown Paper and Imagination references a time when materials were limited but were pushed to the limit by students and staff who were well used to a culture of make-do and mend.

The impermanence of what was being created served, not as a barrier or constrainer of ideas, but quite the opposite with structures and sets created on a grand scale that attracted the attention of not just the arts world but the city itself.

The Revel has always been a showcase for the skill and craft of students and staff at the College, giving them the freedom to express themselves with a sense of fun. The Revel is a unique event, organised without a huge budget – one that is initiated and developed by students using the principle of ‘brown paper and imagination’.

Rachel HoskerArchives Manager

A date in the diary

The Revel was a date in the Edinburgh arts calendar with regular Scotsman newspaper coverage and the patronage of notable figures from the city’s arts scene.

The Scotsman newspaper database served as the source for many of the quotes that are used in the exhibition and provides a fascinating record of the colourful themes that were the framework for each year’s celebration. Example themes include ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Knights Under the Round Table’ and ‘A Festival of Ancient Britain'.

The Scotsman database also includes former student revels including an Arabian themed event in late December 1935.

Last night it was the former students who held their reunion revel, and filled the College again with the sounds of gaiety and festivity. In numbers they were less than the thousand who crowded the College buildings last week; but the joyous spirit characteristic of such occasions was strongly present and the revellers, who were, of course, in fancy dress, entered no less wholeheartedly into the evening’s entertainment.

Anonymous1935, Dec 28. COLLEGE OF ART REVEL. The Scotsman (1921-1950), 12.

Your memories

Do you have memories of attending the Revel at Edinburgh College of Art? Please get in touch with the ECA Alumni Officer, David Simpson, to help us collate a special feature for the Edinburgh College of Art website.

Exhibition details

‘Brown Paper and Imagination: Revealing the Edinburgh College of Art Revel’ runs from 1 April to 2 July 2016 in the University of Edinburgh Main Library Exhibition Gallery (ground floor) and admission is free. For further information, please visit the Centre for Research Collections website.

Related links

Edinburgh College of Art

Exhibition celebrates the art of revelry

Brown Paper and Imagination: Revealing the Edinburgh College of Art Revel

Revel Revel!