As you may have noticed from our blog and Twitter posts over the past couple of weeks, we’ve had a few exciting graduations happening at the University of Edinburgh.

Here’s jeweller Sheila Fleet’s own blog piece letting us know how it felt to receive her honorary degree, whilst sharing a few memories of her ECA student days.

Congratulations again, Sheila!

Happy Graduation Day!

Today we have lots of celebrations as a number of alumni, colleagues and friends celebrate graduations.

Among them are Graham Dey who was Welfare Officer and music guru at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) for over 20 years and helped many students. Graham is a great supporter of the ECA archive and provided much advice on events and people at ECA during from the 1980s to the 2000s. Here is a caricature of him from the ECA Student Handbook 1993! (With thanks to the artist, Neil Kempsell).

I also met jeweller Sheila Fleet O.B.E. and her family. Sheila is receiving an honorary degree today and we had a great chat over items in the archive, including photographs where we spotted her and members of the family when at the College.  Within the group eight of the family had graduated from the College. Here is Sheila and her sisters Connie, Dorothy and Leila, who studied at ECA, on the staircase in the main building.

Sheila also brought along her College scarf.  I had never seen one, so was very excited when she brought it out of her bag!

And last but not least our own Emma Smith, who works as Exhibitions Assistant within the Centre For Research Collections.  She graduated today with First Class Honours.  We’re so proud!!

Congratulations to all!  We hope you’ve had a fantastic day!

Posted by: Rachel

From the Art Collection #82: Body by Rachel Hill

From the Art Collection #82: Body by Rachel Hill

A secret agent exposed…

As I am told by every taxi driver who ever gives me a lift home, Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge area is famous for being the childhood home of Sean Connery. But, you may not know that he was employed by Edinburgh College of Art as an artist’s model from February to May 1952 – we’ve even got his contract in the ECA Archive, signed when he was still known as Thomas Connery.

Richard Demarco, who remembers painting him as a student, described the future Bond as “too beautiful for words, a virtual Adonis.”

Unfortunately only one painting exists in the Art Collection from Big Tam’s brief stint as a model, painted by jazz musician Al Fairweather when he was a student. Feast your eyes on this:

The hair! The pouch! That elegant and alluring pose. No wonder he was cast as James Bond just a few years later.

From the Art Collection #81 Romeing by Marissa Stoffer

From the Art Collection #81 Romeing by Marissa Stoffer

'The object of art is to give life shape': Festival of Museums Fun!

On Saturday we hosted a talk and create workshop at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) with Drawing and Painting Lecturer Joan Smith. This was to celebrate the 1940s for the Festival of Museum events being held across the University of Edinburgh Library and Collections. We shared photos, film and stories from the collections about life at ECA in the 1940s. This was to inspire everyone attending to create collages. We thought you’d like to see some of the work!!

Meet Holly, Our Skills for the Future Placement

My name is Holly and I am currently on a two week placement at ECA Archives as part of my Skills for the Future Collections Trainee programme at RCAHMS.

I began my placement here on Monday and was introduced to the department and given a tour of the CRC by Rachel Hosker, the ECA Archivist, as well as an introduction to the great art collection by Neil Lebeter , the Art Collections Curator.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be working with the ECA’s typography collection, cataloguing and researching the material produced by the ECA’s typography department between 1930 and 1970. The collection is a varied and visually exciting one with items ranging from book covers to 3D menus for the student’s Diploma Luncheon. The material provides a good opportunity to get to grips with a collection of which little is known. A lot of the material is not attributed to a person and there is very little research material available about the work of the typography department at ECA. It is therefore important to spend time trying to understand the archive and to cataloguing it to increase public access.

The college ran The Eagle Press, named after a statue of an eagle that sits atop the press. Hopefully I will get the opportunity to see The Eagle Press at some point over the next two weeks which still resides at ECA. It is not known when The Eagle Press started however the earliest date I have found so far on a printed item from The Eagle Press is 1948.

As well as producing students work the college also printed commercial work. Amongst the collection there are an array of leaflets, menus and brochures for various businesses.

Whilst looking through the collection I found a lot of illustrated booklets that contain extracts from well-known texts such as Moby Dick and The Wind in the Willows. These booklets often have the name of a student from ECA as well as their class year and kind of typography they used printed on the back, providing an insight into the typography class. Some of the booklets have beautiful illustrations and are printed on a range of interesting papers.

Whilst I have only just begun sorting through the collection I already have some favourites. I particularly like a series of colourful prints with the words A Long, Slow Repeat. There are sixteen prints in total, each using different combinations of coloured ink and papers that really give you the sense of a student experimenting and trying out different combinations in a typography class.

Casting in Retrograde

Deborah Marshall is a final year Sculpture student at Edinburgh College of Art. Deborah discusses her work for the ECA Degree Show 2014, which investigates the Cast Collection.  

Casting in Retrograde - a diptych, 2014 is a work that connects and transposes the vast sculpture court and the diminutive casting room of ECA through the medium of sound. It emerged in response to a double opportunity - that of a live vocal performance in the sculpture court on the degree show opening night and the casting room as my show space for a yet to be conceived audio-based work.


The placement of a figure from the cast collection within the casting room as part of the installation has brought the process of display, reserved for the sculpture court, into the space historically assigned for back-room production of cast works. Likewise, my recorded audio - an excerpt from Purcell’s Didos Lament, scored and sung in reverse as a six-part canon - that I performed and pre-recorded with an amateur choir in the beautifully resonant sculpture court - is now embedded in the tall but comparatively tiny casting room for continuous play-back. Through this score, with its references to antiquity via Virgil’s epic poem and Purcell’s Baroque reinterpretation, I am playing with ideas of direction, time, appropriation and narrative.

Importantly, on one level the work questions the place of an historic cast collection within the context of contemporary, conceptual art and its education. For much of my time at ECA, the casts, have seemed an historically interesting but largely architecturally and decoratively appropriate presence beyond the periphery of my current sculptural education - an anachronism in short.

It is curious then that the simple re-placement , or repositioning of the cast figure has proved so unexpectedly transformative both with regard to the evolution of this work, and to the place that is still the working casting room within the college. The installation, with its embedded audio and visual references to the timelessness of the casting process itself, has brought a meditative stillness to the room in which the presence of the past, in the form of the cast figure, is powerfully felt.

The live performance of the audio will be performed on the evening of 22nd May, 2014 in the sculpture court of ECA.

Deborah Marshall


1940s Dunfermline College of Physical Education: We’ve Found Another One!

Last week I was having a chat with our conservator Emma Davey who sits at the desk next to mine.  In passing she mentioned that she thought her Grandmother, Bettina, went to Dunfermline College of Physical Education in the 1940s before becoming a P.E. Teacher.

Towards the end of the afternoon I suggested we go and have a quick look in the DCPE archives for anything that she could take a copy of and show her Granny, when she visited.  We didn’t expect to find much, just perhaps an idea of what she studied and a few photographs of buildings.

Within minutes we found a reference to her in the Old Student Association reports about her sharing a flat with another Douglas (they shared the same surname) and getting called locally as the ‘Twa Dugs’!

Another minute later and I had found a photograph of her that had been sent with her application when she was about 18.  Here is Bettina with that photograph, now aged 90.

She thinks the picture she is holding was taken while she was still at school and before she went to college in the early 1940s. She told Emma that she had a lot of fun at her “digs” with the other girls, and she remembers that she ended up having to oil a squeaky door in her digs so the landlady wouldn’t hear them coming back from the “local hops”!

Thanks to Emma and Bettina for sharing this with us!

posted by Rachel

Blood, Sweat and Photoshop - Preparations for the Degree Show

Tiina Lilja is a final year Painting student at Edinburgh College of Art. Earlier this year, we acquired two of Tiina’s paintings for the University Art Collection as she was an artist we had been following with interest for some time. As well as the physical art works, Tiina will also be providing us with unique insights into her career after graduation so that we get a sense of her working life post-Art School. In the first of these updates, Tiina writes about the lead up to the ECA Degree Show – the final and most significant part of the Art Student’s studies.

The Degree Show is due to open in just few weeks time and things here in the ECA are heating up: we, me and my fellow graduates to be, have been working hard to finish the pieces that are to be exhibited, we have met the external examiners, had our final tutorials and hopefully, yet not definitely, are all set to proceed with the installation of the show in the 5th of May.

First step in getting the degree show ball rolling is choosing the space you wish to use and writing a proposal outlining the reasons why you (or your group) should be given this particular spot. The Degree Show in ECA, mainly takes place in converted studios: partitions get taken down, new ones get built and everything gets a fresh lick of paint. The spaces vary, fortunately, so do the needs of different artists: some studios have more light, some have higher walls, some can be darkened etc.

I chose to apply for the Sculpture Court balcony, as my wish was to show my pieces on a single wall. The space seemed ideal for me regarding the length and height of the walls, lighting and visibility. Therefore my proposal contained technical details of the space I wanted, a list pieces I wished to exhibit, a justification, a map, and some very, hmmmn, skilfully photoshopped mock-ups on what the hanging would look like. A drawn plan would have been sufficient, but I liked the idea of seeing what the pieces would look like in that space.

Naturally, some proposals need more information that mine. Every feature that is not already in the space needs to be mentioned: if you want a wall built, write that you want a wall - if you need seven hundred dancing racoons, write that you are going to get some racoons. Be sensible, the College is not Santa – they will built partitions and give you paint for the walls, but the racoons, projectors, monitors etc. you need to sort out on your own.

Yeah, and the Health & Safety Man might need a word about those racoons…

When spaces have been appointed, things get a little simpler. I finished my last painting couple days ago and touched up all of the grotty corners and edges of old pieces. Then I let myself go nuts with bubble wrap. Like mommy used to say, better be safe than sorry when storage is concerned.

By now, I have also said goodbye to the studio I worked in since September for the clearing out to take place. But after being booted out, we can still work towards the show by ordering business cards, sorting out invites, planning the pricing of the work etc. There will be a week to get our spaces in order: a week of dense curating, fixing the walls, building our exhibits, crying, polishing, hammering, crying… and if I survive, I am hoping to see you all at the show!

Tiina Lilja