The work of Kaitland Axelrood, creatrix at PurgatoryPlaythings, is something of a study in contrasts: The stark ivory of bone paired with opalescent gems. The textured fur of squirrel paws set against gleaming, polished metal. The organic versus the baroque.
“I like to think of my pieces first and foremost as ‘wearable art.’ My goal is to create feeling and emotion rather than just ‘something pretty,'” Axelrood told Dear Darkling. Looking over her pieces, you can see what she’s talking about. Tiny, delicate rodent paws adorned with miniature rings and bracelets are as fascinating as they are horrific. Human molars set with Swarovski crystals sparkle beautifully while they conjure unpleasant memories of trips to the dentist. Some viewers may feel uncomfortable when the gorgeous meets the grotesque, but Axelrood says, “that just tells me as an artist that I’m doing a good job.”
A virtual ossuary, PurgatoryPlaythings’ selection of bone jewelry is seemingly endless. Here, a mink jaw; there, coyote toe bones. The vertebrae from several breeds of snake curl around earrings and necklaces. Perhaps most striking are the Bavarian Charivari-inspired skull pieces, where the front half of an animal skull is set into an ornate setting. “Bavarian Charivari has been one of my biggest inspirations. I came across some pictures of large animal teeth, jaws, and even skulls encased in gorgeous decorative silver. I became instantly obsessed. I wanted not only to own it but I wanted to make it!” says Axelrood. Her Charivari Bat Snout Ring is one of our favorites.
The bones used to create the bold, almost rococo designs are conscientiously acquired. Axelrood explains, “My materials are ethically sourced, meaning the animals died of natural causes or [were] unfortunate roadkill. I do not buy from hunters or farmers. No animal should ever be harmed for art.” Similarly, the human teeth she uses are usually donated by patrons: “People willingly send me their teeth from all over the world to be made into something beautiful instead of discarded as garbage… I’ve made engagement rings from the teeth of partners as well as the teeth of children for their parents.” If this doesn’t prove Kaitland Axelrood is a darkling tooth fairy, we don’t know what does.
From her newly expanded studio in Los Angeles, Axelrood hand-creates her pieces with an autodidactic, diverse methodology. “All pieces are created, drilled, soldered, sculpted, painted and polished by hand,” she says. Drawn to the creative arts for most of her life (“In grade school, art was the only class I even remotely enjoyed,”), she taught herself to work with the materials we see in her PurgatoryPlaythings pieces. “I am not aware of a school you can go to or a class you can take that teaches exactly what I’m doing. Combining metal and bone can be delicate, and every bone is different. It took a lot of experimenting, especially when I started working with high temperatures. I now am quite familiar with anatomy, the melting points of metals, [and] I give a fantastic rat hand manicure and know how to remove cavities and tooth decay.”
Axelrood’s love of mourning jewelry is clear, and personal. She shared, “In 2013 my father died of pancreatic cancer. When I received his ashes, I placed some of them in a vial, sealed it, and kept it close. Most of my pieces contain relics from a time of life.” The gilded bones that dangle from delicate chains are a modern memento mori: “Death is inevitable and once that is acknowledged life becomes much more precious,” says Axelrood. This attitude is evident not only within PurgatoryPlaythings’ stock, but also in the careful packaging when pieces are sent to their new homes. Each order is shipped within a custom-made birch coffin box handmade by Axelrood’s parter Christian (of Coffins For The Living).
The wares at PurgatoryPlaythings aren’t limited to jewelry. They also offer a small selection of housewares, including coffin-shaped boxes and cork boards, skeletal art dolls, and amazing one-of-a-kind pieces like the Articulating Neck Fantasy Creature Sculpture, which features a skunk skull and python vertebrae emerging from a Victorian style mirror.
After moving to a larger studio space, Axelrood has dark plans for her future. “I love creating new art and plan to get bigger, better and most importantly, stranger,” she says. Devotees of the luxurious grotesque can follow PurgatoryPlaythings via Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, and of course Etsy.