By Claire Mathieson
Every few weeks in the cozy, sunken Weber Living Room of Reid Hall, a group of about 15 Barnard College students get together, each picking out an array of beads, finding a spot at the tool-strewn table, and beginning work on a beautiful piece of jewelry. You may have noticed the booth Diane Lewis and her beading Teaching Assistants (TAs) run at various Barnard vendor fairs, draped with a wide spectrum of earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, all made by Barnard students. In 2002, Barnard noticed too and asked Lewis to teach a beading mini-course that they would offer through Student Life, then called the College Activities Office. Students could enroll for a small fee and learned new beading techniques from Lewis in each class. Two years ago the class model was disbanded, and students can now participate in what are called “beading marathons,” free sessions open to the entire campus. Lewis considers this incarnation of the sessions to be less technical than the original but more fun. “There was no freedom in that,” she says, referring to the former mini-class, “this is more relaxing.” The program is now free thanks to the sponsorship of Student Life, which Lewis is extremely grateful for. “They just want the girls to relax, so they’ve been very supportive,” she assures, her eyes twinkling as she puts the finishing touches on a student’s bracelet.
Every student who makes a piece has the opportunity to put it up for sale at one of the many vendor fairs that take place throughout the year. Barnard itself holds fall, spring, and holiday fairs as well as a student fair each semester, while Columbia University puts on two per year. Some vendor fairs even take place outside of the Columbia community, at places like churches and schools. If a student’s work sells, she makes 100 percent of the profit. However, students are not obligated to sell any of their work and often choose to give them as gifts or keep them to wear themselves.
Lewis’ favorite part of running the group is being around her Barnard students, who she says are “like grandchildren for me.” Lewis is never without her TAs, enthusiastic student helpers who teach new students and add clasps to necklaces and bracelets when Lewis has too many to do herself. “We’re the relief,” says TA Doris Domoszlai BC’11, as Lewis adds “I couldn’t do this without the TAs. I wouldn’t want to.” Lewis has about a dozen TAs at the moment, enough to ensure there are at least a few available to help out at each meeting. TA Adriana Alter BC’11 explains the progression from new student to TA as follows: “you take the class and you get good at it and you seem like a nice, sociable person who would get along with other TAs,” while Lewis chimes in to declare the “nice” factor as most important.
Beading marathons are a great way both to de-stress and to release creative energy. The room is generally quiet, a low buzz of chatter in the air broken only by the occasional expression of delight from Lewis as she holds up a student’s latest piece for admiration. “OK, we’ve got a tiered column earring – eat your heart out, isn’t that gorgeous?” She considers what the girls might want to learn this semester, throwing ideas out for feedback. She and her TAs plan to teach pendant necklaces, regular earrings, earrings with connectors, lariat necklaces and rings. You can try it yourself on the following dates. No experience is necessary!
Saturday February 19, 2011 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Saturday March 26, 2011 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Thursday April 7, 2011 6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Thursday April 28, 2011 9:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.
All marathons take place in Reid Hall’s Weber Living Room.
Claire is a sophomore at Barnard College and is Features editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing. She is a TA-in-training for Barnard’s beading class.