Little Local Twists

Artist Sarah Killen, aka Saint Claude, creates chic art and accessories by twisting metals and playing with textiles.
Cheryl Gerber Photographs

At first glance, the bronze orbs that are the basis of pendants, earrings, rings and cufflinks in the local jewelry line Saint Claude appear to be magical orbs hailing from a different world. But in reality, their origin is something more familiar: those round, spiky fruits that fall from sweetgum trees and serve as the enemy to barefooted kids everywhere.

“They’re all over Louisiana; I would grow up stepping on them,” says Sarah Killen, the designer behind Saint Claude. “I would have so many people come up to me and say, ‘I hate those things! They hurt my feet!’”

The line’s gumball collection sums up the appeal of Killen’s jewelry. The pieces often have organic origins and hint at something familiar, but the finished product is something unique.

“You can take an organic object and you can make a mold,” she says. “And you can work with the two things to create something you’ve never seen before.”

Killen is a Bossier City native who was raised on a beef and dairy farm. She always had an artistic, D.I.Y. bent, and as a child, she made things with her father, including pirogues and stools from little tree stumps. Through the years she continued on a creative path, pulling from her extensive textile collection. Saint Claude started as mainly textile accessories – the line still features a line of scarf-like fabric necklaces – but the pieces people would associate with the line today came after she started working with a metal caster.

Killen found the caster, Tim Lacrosse, after a serendipitous encounter at a dog park. She struck up a conversation with a fellow jewelry maker who coincidentally used to live across the street from her Irish Channel home, and she informed Killen that a metal caster happened to live in the neighborhood. After “bugging” Lacrosse for a while, the two began working together to create metal jewelry.

“We joke around that … everything was walked back and forth between our houses, so we’re really minimizing [our carbon footprints],” Killen says.

She makes a mold of an object that is cast in metal. The original objects tend to take on different appearances in their metallic forms: Besides the porous gumballs that look like magical globes, there’s a crawfish tail that resembles a beetle or a mermaid tail, a cow’s tooth that looks like nubby cypress knees, okra that looks like a long tooth or bone. Some, though, are more straightforward and playful, like pendants featuring a T-rex and pterodactyl.

“I like the dinosaurs. It’s kind of silly but they’re one of my favorite pieces,” Killen says. “There’s no limit when you’re working with metal of what you can make something from.”

Killen had a baby girl in March, and dangling over her crib is a mobile unlike anything you’d find at Toys R Us. Killen made some baby mobiles featuring the things she collects – feathers, crystals, bones and coral she’s painted with glitter – and illuminated with LED lights. She would like to eventually start a children’s line with mobiles, baby accessories and maybe some child-safe jewelry. She’s also working on a prototype of teal baby moccasins.

“You’re inspired by what’s around you, so obviously having a baby, I’m like ‘Hmm, what is not out there that I wish was out there?’” she says.

Also on her work desk are sundry odds and ends from furniture from her friend’s antique store, which she’ll make jewelry out of for an upcoming collection. She shows me a delicate bracelet she made from the trimming of Louis XVI furniture.

“[The new collection is] much more feminine, but complementary to other pieces that can be kind of masculine,” she says. “I wanted to make stuff that doesn’t have to be … It’s not like a clothing designer where you have to have seasons or keep up with some kind of trend. I wanted things that are classic and that you would always like and that you can incorporate with other stuff.”

Categories: LL_Feature, Theatre + Art