Photo credit: Ryan Michael White, Katie Krulock
“Is she allowed to play with these?” is the first question I asked Sarah Sindler ’11. I was referring to the cluster of pastel puffs her black cat, Zoot, is batting off of the dining room table that temporarily doubles as her studio (while she renovates her garage studio). Sarah shakes her head, “She thinks they’re her toys. Well, they actually are cat toys, they have catnip in them.” Sarah, owner and designer of KING RELD couture adornments, points to the puffs and identifies them: bracelet, necklace, broach. To call Sarah’s work unique is an understatement—it’s disarming.
“IF MY GRANDMOM SAW ME WEARING A GRILL, SHE’D SAY, ‘TAKE THAT OUT, THAT’S SO UGLY, WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE UGLY?’ IT’S NOT ABOUT ME BEING BEAUTIFUL, THAT’S NOT WHY I’M HERE.”
At the intersection of commerce and social commentary, Sarah’s grillz (jewelry attached to the teeth), tooth caps (like the former but smaller), nostril clips, fingernail rings, and more, are equal parts accessory and conversation piece. Her two-pronged work, jewelry design and performance art, are her reactions to what she calls beauty gluttony. “Beauty gluttony is the over-exaggeration of features to achieve the ultimate beauty,” explained Sarah.
In order to fully convey the messages behind the jewels, Sarah uses performance art fashion shows, urging models to personify their adornments and calling on the audience to consider the feelings incited. In her show Teeth Dreams, her models wore grillz with foot-long strings of pearls, marble sized jewels, and tusks, an interpretation of our obsession with perfect white teeth and the resultant anxiety. She filled the entire room with ceiling high mirrors, forcing the audience to confront both the performers and themselves. “Everything has an intention,” says Sarah. Unable to look away and unable to find comfort, KING RELD forces those who encounter her work to consider it, an idea she calls, “art entrapment.”
RELD is the last four letters of Sindler reversed. KING is a nod to Sarah, which means princess in Hebrew, and her Leo-ness, the sign of royalty. “I think it’s cool to have a gender fluid [business] name…especially making grillz. When men order a grill from me, they’re like ‘Oh, you’re not a dude,’” she notes. Though her work doesn’t comment directly on gender, the social constructs of beauty she portrays tend to fall on women: “I think that women are more in the midst of, ‘I have to be x,y, and z.’ I just want to know why and explore that.”
Shortly after Sarah graduated from Chatham with a Bachelors in Visual Arts, she got a job at a consignment shop where she witnessed the phenomenon of using luxury items to soothe perceived inadequacies: “That’s where all of the topics I explore in my work came from; a lot of the women who shopped there hated their bodies. Buying a Chanel dress would make them feel better.” Nowadays, Sarah works to make the kind of adornments that empower rather than numb.
“I MAKE FASHION AND JEWELRY BECAUSE I LOVE IT SO MUCH BUT ALSO BECAUSE I HATE IT SO MUCH. THAT’S WHY I’M MAKING CREEPY GRILLZ AND SNOT JEWELRY— I WANT PEOPLE TO THINK ABOUT IT.”
She pulls out her phone to show me the elaborate grill she just made for a client, the mouthpiece has three lines forming a wave. She is thrilled: “I really like it when people step out of the box for their commissioned work.” In order to construct one grill, Sarah takes an impression of her client’s mouth and then fills the impression with dental stone to make an exact model of their teeth. From there, she builds a wax model of the grill precisely for that client’s mouth. Then she’ll invest the wax grill and put it in the oven to cast, allowing all the wax to burn out. Molten metal is then poured into the cast, filling in where the wax was previously and hardening instantly. Finally she quenches and files the piece to perfection. “I just taught myself how to do it,” she shrugs.
Sarah learned the art of metal casting and jewelry design at David I. Helfer Jewelers in the Jewelry District of Pittsburgh, where she still apprentices under owner Ira Helfer and works as business manager. Initially creating wax pieces to have cast at the Helfer’s, Sarah credits her foray into finishing, polishing, and fabrication to her perfectionism: “Eventually, I annoyed them enough for them to say, ‘Why don’t you come back here and polish it yourself,” she recalls. The rest is history.
KING RELD wants the people who wear her jewelry to feel confident and she doesn’t want wealth to have anything to do with it; frequently trading her work for other people’s work. Her business cards, jewelry bags, and printed display paper were all bartered. “Support your local artists,” she insists. “That’s how we make all the stuff that’s in our brains.”