It’s always intriguing to learn about the diverse interests HARMAN employees cultivate outside of work. As a photographer, makeup artist, genealogy buff, dog rescuer and costume collector, Executive Assistant Erika Killen leads an exceptionally vibrant personal life while supporting the work of Senior Vice President and GM of HARMAN Professional Solutions’ Entertainment business unit Bryan Bradley and several other executives.
Before joining HARMAN 11 years ago, Erika worked in the hockey industry, assisting CAA power agent Pat Brisson and former L.A. Kings star Luc Robitaille. “There have been lots of changes at HARMAN since I came here, but working with Bryan Bradley and the team is really fun and exciting; it’s a great group,” said Erika.
Although she commuted to the Westside for many years, Erika grew up just a few blocks from HARMAN’s Northridge campus. While the rest of her family is musically inclined, Erika’s creative instincts led in a different direction. “I was a ballet dancer and involved with the theatrical world,” she said. “But, when I was 29 years old, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and stopped dancing. Live theater was my absolute passion, though, and for a while, I tried producing.”
“Since then, I’ve collected costumes and vintage gowns,” said Erika. “I love 18th century, ‘20s, Edwardian and Victorian-era costumes, so I have little bits from all those periods.” Although she rarely has an opportunity to wear the outfits, Erika donned an 18th century Marie Antoinette gown for HARMAN’s 2015 Halloween costume party and proudly won first prize.
When Erika was a young, girl her mother gave her a Kodak Brownie camera that became a prized possession, igniting a lifelong hobby and, for the last several years, side business. “I do a lot of weddings and portraits on weekends,” she said. “It’s my creative outlet, and I especially love shooting portraits.”
Erika’s portrait photography has grown to include both two-legged and four-legged models. As a devoted animal lover with three rescue dogs, she often volunteers at a local rescue, photographing dogs that are available for adoption. “Having good online photos makes a huge difference in finding homes for pets,” she said.
Erika is also a professional makeup artist and, after studying special effects and beauty makeup at Makeup Designory (MUD) in Burbank, worked on film sets. “I loved creating characters, but film work is an 18 hour a day job and not at all glamorous. Your whole life becomes working on the film; it’s like going underwater for 30 days at a time. It wasn’t for me,” said Erika. “Occasionally, I still do makeup for portraits, but stopped doing it for weddings, because it’s too hard to shoot the bride and do her makeup at the same time.”
Perhaps the most timeless and overarching of Erika’s interests is her fascination with genealogy research, which she has pursued for 20 years. “I remember being a little girl and asking my mother about some old pictures in our house. She told me the stories she knew about our ancestors. The most fascinating was about my second great-grandmother, who was 13 years old just before the Civil War started,” said Erika. “Her father was thrown into the river and drowned while helping escaped slaves cross the Ohio River. I was captivated by the thought of this young woman, the oldest of nine siblings, going through war fatherless, helping to raise the other children. That’s what sparked it for me. I wanted to know more.”
“It’s a hobby that goes and goes and never ends,” she said. “You keep finding amazing connections. I’ve gone back in some lines all the way to Robert the Bruce [the first King of Scotland], who was born in 1274, and my 22nd great-grandfather. My 13th great-grandaunt was Anne of Cleves, who married Henry VIII, so it’s incredibly interesting! You love these people even though you never met them. They become so real!”
Many thanks to Erika for sharing her story and many talents with the HARMAN community!