Of all the career paths that an artist might explore, the field of dental restorations is an unexpected one. But for Ellen Theresa Sisti, TYL ’21, it makes perfect sense.
“My master’s is in wearables, and what I’m making right now is the ultimate wearable!” she explained. “It’s using all of the skills that I learned in grad school; this is the practical application of them.”
Reason to smile
In the fall of 2020, Sisti connected with Amid Ismail, dean at Temple’s Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry, and Ben Topaz, CEO/owner of Golden Ceramic Dental Lab. They saw the value in her 3D modeling experience using various CAD and CAM software, and after being hired, she audited an anatomy class at Temple to get up to speed.
“I hadn’t put together that dentistry and jewelry were almost identical in the tech they use. I fell in love with the attention to detail and artistry in dentistry.”
In her current role as lab manager and digital dental technician for Golden Ceramic Dental Lab, the commercial, fully digital dental lab housed within Temple Dental, she creates 3D-printed crowns, bridges and surgical casts. She’s even experimented with prosthetic silicon noses.
Cutting her teeth
Using technology like 3D modeling, CNC milling and laser cutting was integral to Sisti’s fine arts work at Temple. Her thesis project, a gallery piece titled The Essence of Form, was a series of four birch plywood stands that supported four stainless steel vases sliced into tessellating geometric patterns with acrylic mirrors on the surfaces. She crafted these vessels to act as bridges for the viewer between physical and digital worlds.
“I wanted to use these bare-bones materials and forms to create a conduit,” Sisti said. “If you give someone the known, they can go into the unknown. They can start asking questions.”
The interdisciplinary relationship between fine art and technology has always fascinated Sisti. One class in particular, Critiques in Critical Discourse, in which master’s of fine arts students from various disciplines met to critique each other’s work, helped her see those overlaps and intersections come to life.
“We can learn the most when we learn from people who have expertise in different areas,” she said. “I love being surrounded by intelligent people who are passionate about what they do.”
Ellen at a Glance
A crowning achievement
Sisti also had an epiphany in an art history class taught by Jen Zwilling, TYL ’01, where she was introduced to the Arts and Crafts movement and its sociopolitical roots.
“They used craft as a way to rebel against the inequities they saw in the world,” she said. “There’s this quote from William Morris: ‘I don’t want art for a few.’ That stuck with me and changed my artwork and how I approach my life professionally.” She views her current work as a direct extension of that philosophy.
“The work I do here at Temple Dental uses technology to help the community of North Philly, which is so deserving of good care and dignity,” she said. “For me, it’s a very egalitarian tool.”