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Senior Spotlight: Catherine Hettler carves her own path

Gazi Fuad / Thresher

By Michelle Gachelin     11/30/21 11:41pm

From drawing on the walls of her childhood home to creating sculptures inspired by modern psychology experiments, art has always been a part of Catherine Hettler’s life. She knew she would continue to create art in college, but came into Rice undecided in her major. It wasn’t until she took Beginning Sculpture and Introduction to Psychology classes as a freshman that she decided to double major in Studio Art and Psychology. Now, she’s finally finding her voice.

“I became more serious about [art] after I came to college, and I think right now I am more serious about it than ever before. I feel like I’m really settling into what kind of art I like to do,” Hettler, a McMurtry College  senior, said. “All throughout high school, I did drawings and colored pencils, but after going to college I’ve really leaned into the sculpture aspect of art and fell in love with it.”

Since deciding to pursue art, Hettler is grateful for the support of her friends and family, as well as for the enthusiasm of the faculty at Rice. 

“I really like the faculty in the art department. They’re all very encouraging. The reason I decided to pick this major and be more ambitious in art is because of the influence of all the faculty members and the professors,” Hettler said. “They’re all very excited about the things that they teach and the things they do, and it’s really infectious.”

Hettler’s art focuses on the intersection between concepts in modern psychology and sculpture. She tends to create art in thematic bodies of work and said she falls in love with whatever she’s currently making.

“I started off doing work that had to do with the unconscious psyche, dreamscapes and comfort memories,” Hettler said. “Then I shifted to working with childhood experiences, drawing from both mine and from [others]. I feel like children have very innocent but also destructive tendencies.”

Hettler also incorporates founding experiments in developmental psychology into her art. Her piece featured in this year’s Sleepy Cyborg Gallery is inspired by Harlow’s experiment, which involved giving baby monkeys the choice between two surrogate mothers: a soft cloth monkey providing no nourishment and a wire monkey with an attached baby bottle. 

“I was inspired by the soft monkey … [My work is] a cloth piece made of found objects. That one is one of my favorites. I actually did it in around 30 minutes, which is weird because I tend to work more long-term,” Hettler said. “Then I did a [fabric] piece inspired by Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment … It’s like a creature [resembling] something between a clown doll and a small child … I think it’s very fun to look at. It represents the lack of malice but simultaneous lack of moral compass [in children] that I got from the experiment.”

When Hettler begins working on a piece, she rarely sticks strictly to her original concept, preferring to let the piece improve organically and intuitively. She said that people tend to put high standards on themselves when they create art, rather than enjoying the process. 

“What I really learned while pursuing this major is that it’s really just about how much fun I’m having. I’m working very intuitively and doing what feels right in that moment,” Hettler said. “At the risk of sounding cliche, I’m letting my inner child have their way when it comes to art, and being unapologetic about it.”

Allowing herself to have fun with the process of creating also requires Hettler to let go of worrying about how audiences will receive her art. People have described her art in many different ways she hadn’t expected, so she focuses instead on enjoying her experience as a creator and artist.

“I used to make things with an idea of how I wanted people to receive my art, but I think it’s really important to just do what feels right for me and not worry about how it’ll be received,” Hettler said. “It’s nice to be surprised by how people receive my art. It was the one thing I was afraid of, but that’s what makes it exciting now.” 

After graduating, Hettler plans on taking a gap year to pursue art on her own, without structure from a class or assignment. 

“I’ve been slowly leaning into working with more Freudian concepts, things like the ego and superego are concepts I think work well with my general aesthetic and the type of work I usually do,” Hettler said. “It can be kind of daunting [to work on your own], because you’re on your own timetable. I have a couple different potential paths I’m considering, but we’ll see where it goes.”

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