Employee Owner Spotlight: Keara Martin
In our first Blog post of 2019, we sit down with Bark Frameworks welder Keara Martin for an Employee Owner Spotlight interview.
Employee owner name: Keara Martin
Department/Job at Bark Frameworks: Welder in our Metal Shop
How long have you worked at Bark?: A little over two years.
Hails from: Long Island, NY.
What did you do before you worked at Bark Frameworks?
I was hired onto Bark Frameworks about 5 months after graduating SUNY Purchase with a BFA in sculpture. In the interim, I worked as an assistant for one of my professors, Nancy Bowen, at her studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At this time, I also had a freelance gig making props for a magician -- thanks, Craigslist!
What is the biggest challenge in your area of work at Bark?
It is a very physical job. I always used my body a lot when I was making sculpture more regularly, but that didn’t really prepare me for some of the ways I exert myself making picture frames. Repetition is the most challenging factor. It’s much more about technique than muscle, and I had to learn how to pace myself properly to avoid injury.
Certain frame profiles take a lot of elbow grease to accomplish the level of detail they demand, so it is important to develop physically sustainable procedures. Polished frames, for instance, are essentially made by sanding metal thoroughly with increasingly fine grits, and then buffing out all evidence of that sanding until the surface is reflective and blemish-free. Making a single, crisp frame is one thing, but we often have to make a matching set, or we have to match an existing frame that a client may have ordered long before my time here at Bark. When that happens, the difficulty isn’t just coming up with a solution that is right for that one order. There are a lot of ways to reach the same outcome in a metal shop. The challenge is in predicting the most productive process that appeals to my stamina and the benefit of future jobs in all shapes, sizes, and quantities.
What do you like best about working at Bark Frameworks?
I am mostly left to my own devices to manage my workload and I appreciate that trust in a workspace. I find welding to be a very meditative process, so my favorite days are when I get to be on the torch.
I also really enjoy having so many artists as co-workers; it makes for a quirky workspace. I usually don’t get to make artwork or go to galleries as much as I would ideally like to, but being surrounded by creative minds and artworks every day satisfies a bit of that need.
Has there been a particularly memorable framing job you worked on?
The metal room received a very large order of aluminum frames from the Metropolitan Museum photo department for an Irving Penn retrospective in March of 2017. I was still relatively new at Bark and this was my first time in the thick of a very large order. It was all hands on deck.
I had to do a great deal of research and experimenting on more productive ways to accomplish a polished finish, which was heavily featured in the exhibit. This was necessary to meet the deadline for the installation of the show.
It felt really fulfilling to have a tangible impact in a shop that’s been around for so long and to have a hand in some of the pieces coming together for the retrospective. Walking through the Met and seeing the artwork hanging on their walls, in frames I made, was a pretty wild experience. I definitely keep those bragging rights in my back pocket for rainy days.
What does being an employee owner mean to you?
Bark Frameworks as an entity is the conglomeration of the highly-skilled and detail oriented individuals that have worked here throughout this company’s history.
Any time a frame at Bark is fabricated, finished, fit, or otherwise, it is held to the personal standards of very prideful craftspeople throughout every step of its process. The sum of these specifications is the product this company outputs. For me, being an employee owner means bringing everyone to the table to discuss and perfect a collaboration that has always been happening. Also, I like the pizza parties we have now.
It sounds like you’re especially drawn to the skilled craftsmanship aspect of Bark, and that emphasis within the company’s identity. How can this translate to the outside world?
Actually, I think the thing that resonates most with Bark’s clients is our craftsmanship; how thoroughly our frames are made by hand. A brushed finish on an aluminum or brass frame, for example, could be achieved with automatic tools, and typically is in frames that I have seen out in the world. In our metal shop, however, this finish is done exclusively by hand, carefully guiding straight scratches into the metal with a piece of sand paper wrapped around a block of wood.
Our eyes are more perceptive than a lot of us realize. Even if you’re not in the framing business, you can easily tell if a frame is ever so slightly out of square, or if an artwork isn’t exactly centered. I think that is why Bark’s frames feel so cohesive and comfortable sitting with the artworks they enclose. Frames constructed and finished by hand are more labor intensive to make, but they speak in the same visual language as the works that we frame. The frames we make complement and heighten works, while seamlessly vanishing into the background of the viewing experience. They’re like a theater performance with an excellent stage crew.
Any outside hobbies/interests you have when you’re not making frames?
I make things here and there. Mostly illustrations as of late. On rare occasions when I get my apartment to myself, I’ll play a little violin. I am actually borrowing a couple of fiddles that [Bark’s CEO] Karl made in his personal workshop - they’re lovely!
Are you an artist?
Yes! I studied 3D and 4D processes in college, but now I have space constraints that make those practices more challenging. I am currently working a lot more in 2D mediums.
You can see some of Keara’s art at https://cargocollective.com/kearamartin
Thank you, Keara!
Photos 1, 2, 4: Jennifer M. Clark
Photo 3: Keara Martin