Harvard Law Community Gets Crafty With More Than Just Words

BY JOEY SEILER

Flora Amwayi ?13 picked up jewelry design from a friend while working as a consultant in New York City before coming to law school. She made many of the necklaces and earrings she was selling at the Harvard Law School Crafts Fair before her 1L year began.

Tables and cloths were rolled out in Ropes Gray last Wednesday for what could be the first annual Harvard Law School Crafts Fair. Seventeen members of the Law School community signed up to distribute their wares, but only two were students.

This isn’t the first time the campus has played host to a crafts fair, though. According to participants, the faculty assistants held their own smaller fair that died away over the years. The new version has expanded to include students, faculty, family members, staff, and friends.

“We’re always looking for ways to bring the entire community together,” said Dean of Students Ellen Cosgrove. As for the small number of student crafters, Dean Cosgrove admitted there was little notice for the event, but hoped for more participation next year. “We want to make this an annual tradition. We had lots of students in here buying. Next year we’d like to get more distribution.”

Cosgrove estimates that several hundred community members passed through Ropes Gray over the two-hour block — and those shoppers were excited by what they saw.

Faculty Assistants Melinda Eakin and Lauren Schauff (“If a professor works in criminal law, we probably work with them,” joked Eakin) said they had no artistic skill of their own, but were already variously draped in or carrying “gorgeous necklaces” and earrings they had picked up while making their rounds. Many were gifts purchased in advance of the holidays.

Their purchases were typical. According to Dean Cosgrove, crafters said they did well, especially those selling pottery and jewelry. Several said they had done better than at previous staff craft fairs. Mira Singer, daughter of Dean Martha Minow and Professor Joseph Singer, almost sold out of her photography and books. Another table sold out of knit items for babies and moved on to taking orders.

One student who was doing well in sales was Flora Amwayi ’13. Amwayi, originally from Kenya, earned her undergraduate degree from MIT several years ago in Electrical Engineering and spent time before coming to the Law School consulting in New York City, eventually at Morgan Stanley. In her last year there, she picked up jewelry design from one of her friends at the same time she began applying to law schools.

“Most of this is from before I came to law school,” Amwayi said, indicating her table full of necklaces and earrings. (She prefers to design the earrings for their variety of colors and designs: “Necklaces can be as easy as attaching an extension.”)

Amwayi sold several pieces while we spoke, but immediately began packing up her things, still halfway through the event. She had class at 1 p.m.

“It’s too much work right now,” Amwayi said of designing more pieces. “It’s hard to find the time.”

“You guys have a lot less time,” said Cathy Conroy, associate director for discovery and access at the library, explaining why she had an impressive table full of knit items and eye-catching stained glass. Conroy, who has been working with the Law School for more than 25 years, began to spin her own yarn over the past year.

Conroy picked up her knitting habit while working at Harvard Medical School. A co-worker who commuted from Andover brought her own work in to the office and taught Conroy. Now she is a part of a 25-woman knitting group at the Law School, mostly made up of library staff.

While there was a constant crowd around her table, Conroy said she had not sold much. Mostly she was taking orders as the items on display were spoken for, frequently by Conroy herself.

“I make almost all my own clothes,” she said. “I don’t want to sell my closet.”

Time may be more of an issue for law students than staff. At a place like Harvard, almost every student has at least one knack or hobby they’ve excelled at beyond the law. It’s just the function of gathering 1,600-odd Type A’s to one campus. Dean Minow’s recitation of each class’ previous accomplishments in her welcoming speech is a litany of commendations and odd, but impressive quirks. But that’s all before 1L.

To be sure, many students have maintained their side pursuits. In any given lecture hall you can find students racking up virtual poker chips, idly doodling caricatures that could be hung up rather than relegated to margins, or leaving seats empty to go practice guitar. In off time, we craft Halloween costumes, paint to relieve stress, play in jazz groups, or keep up with dance and figure skating. Still, there’s always plenty of work to come back to.

Some of it, though, is less a time issue than a culture. Consider Ropes Gray, center of much of HLS’ social scene. Every photographer I spoke to at the Craft Fair commented on the poor lighting. Even in real life, the art can look washed out. That’s the architecture, but there are also the people. I asked Amwayi if she’d told her section-mates that she’d be selling jewelry that afternoon. No, it was a bit “embarrassing.”

That’s a shame. As the sign above the library water fountain points out, lawyers can be some of the best people in the world to drink with. As the various comedians, writers, chefs, and artists to ditch their esquires for creative successes can attest, they can — just maybe — be some of the best people to imagine with.

Fortunately, it’s not necessarily so restrictive at Harvard Law. The crowd cycling through Ropes Gray that afternoon is evidence. 

And, as Professor Daniel Halperin quipped while standing next to his wife’s pottery display, it’s not universal.

“When I first went into teaching [my wife] was a science teacher, and everyone at Penn was married to artists,” he said. “Now here they’re all married to lawyers. I stay behind the times.” 

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