We are pleased to present a new feature here on the UG Community Blog; “Where Are They Now?” – a quick profile on past employees and where they’ve moved on to. This first installment is with one of our first employees – artist, Kristen Barrows. She’s now so much of a regular that everyone knows her as “medium latté” as she races in the store on her way to Symmetry Gallery, where she works a few times a week. Mostly, you’ll find KB (her long-time nickname) wrestling with her cats or wrestling with a new art technique she’s mastering.
Uncommon Grounds (UG): So when exactly did you work here? I feel like it was a long time ago…
Kristen Barrows (KB): I started in the fall of 1993 and worked full-time for about two full years. I think I went away to teach for a bit but then came back to work just one or two days a week for another two years.
UG: Wow! That is old-school! What was it like back then?
KB: Well, 1993 was pre-bagels! We used to have to run down to Bruegger’s to get bagels for ourselves to eat. Then when we finally started serving them, it wasn’t even the full bagel bar. We just had little sides of cream cheese we gave out to people.
UG: Oh, right! Didn’t Dan (Murphy, owner) drive down to New York City to get the bagels back then?
KB: Right, exactly!
UG: So how many employees would work a shift back then?
KB: When I first started there were two or three on in the morning. At one point there was just two of us but he hired one more. At night there would be a few more people for closing chores or whatever. For awhile, there was only one guy who worked here so we told Dan that he had to hire more men. *Laughs*
UG: *Laughs* Sounds like a nightmare to me! Anyway, so was this before or after college for you?
KB: This was after. My first job out of college, in fact. I designed my own major at Skidmore; a combination of art, education and psychology. At one point I moved away from Saratoga to go teach but then figured that I was going to burn out really fast on that. So I’m falling back on my arts degree, ironically.
UG: In knowing you as an artist, I can’t seem to pin down a specific medium that you work with. I can’t seem to say “Kristen is a painter” or “Kristen is a sculptor.” Do you have any specific materials or styles you prefer to work with?
KB: That’s the thing. I work in every medium I can. I just love working with material. No matter what it is. Anything I can do with my hands I will, I’ll try it at least once. With the holidays, I always try and make all my gifts and I always try and teach myself something new each year. Sometimes I take classes; two summers ago I took a welding course. I have more tools than most guys I know!
UG: Are you selling or showing any work right now?
KB: Most of the stuff I am actively selling is the jewelery I have down at Symmetry Gallery where I work. It’s been a little quiet due to the economy. It’s not a necessity item, so it’s a little quiet but there’s still people out there that want to buy handmade things. They want to be able to attribute the work to a human being.
UG: Tell us about Symmetry Gallery; what is your role there? How long have you worked there?
KB: Well, I’ve been there for ten years. It’s kind of a collaborative working environment between a few artists. We all pitch-in many ways. The shop has been open on Broadway since May of 1990 and it was started by local couple, Dianne and Gary Zack who are both glass artists. We carry handmade American glass art from about 150 artists from around the U.S. We always include information about the artists with each piece that we sell. Our specialty is glass because in one form or another Dianne and Gary have over 30 years of experience working with and collecting the medium.
UG: So the work you have at Symmetry is…?
KB: Jewelery that combines semiprecious stones and glass beads that I make in my home studio. Using a technique called lampworking, I use a torch flame to melt glass around a thin steel rod which when removed creates the hole of the bead. Before working at Symmetry, I really knew nothing about glass. But it didn’t take long before I had to get my hands on it, and see for myself what I could make it do!
UG: That was one of your Christmas challenges?
KB: Yeah pretty much!
UG: How long have you been making glass beads?
KB: I’d say about seven years? I love it.
UG: So what do you see for the future?
KB: Right now, I’m trying to get back into silversmithing which is something I started working on at classes at Skidmore. I just recently set up all of that equipment next to the glass equipment so I can start combining the two. Trying to figure out a way to do it so that it’s not arbitrary. *Laughs* I just really like working with stuff!
UG: A-ha! Yes, you do. Well, we look forward to seeing which new art discipline you find next! OK, to close it out, can you share a memory or some sort of personal anecdote about your time working at Uncommon Grounds?
KB: The one thing I remember about working here is that it forced me to get over my shyness. I was big-time shy.
UG: Really? Hard to believe!
KB: Oh, definitely. I was painfully shy. This working environment just forces you to come out from behind your shell. In a way, you have to take charge behind the counter, especially dealing with new people every five minutes. I had to come out of my shell in a big way so that was a huge bonus to working Uncommon.