Project Transforms Recycled Objects into Life-Size Cocoon for Upcoming Baylor Art Show

News Photo 5078
Allyson Cliett works on her "cocoon" for the student art show at the Martin Museum.
March 23, 2011

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Self-described claustrophobe Allyson Cliett has been busy spinning herself into a cocoon.

A senior studio arts major from Hillsboro, Texas, Cliett has spent the past semester coiling a life-size cocoon that will enclose her completely.

Cliett is entering her cocoon in a student art show at the Martin Museum of Art in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center on the Baylor campus. If accepted, her piece can be seen in Gallery I, March 24 to April 12. The museum will showcase original works of art created by Baylor studio art faculty and students in a wide range of media.

A reception and awards ceremony will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 24. The event is free and open to the public.

An independent study project, Cliett's cocoon "symbolizes the man-made material world's encroachment on nature, as well as my own personal entrapment by materialism, from which I aspire to escape," she wrote in her artist's statement.

Inspired by birds' nests constructed with trash, Cliett's cocoon is composed almost entirely of recyclable materials including phone cords, loofahs, men's ties, bubble wrap and pet collars.

"I can look back at a certain piece of coil and it reminds me of what I was doing that day," she said. "In the end, it will provide me with a sort of time-line or scrapbook of my semester. My life, as represented by material objects, will literally envelop me in ways seen only in nature, and my only choice will be to escape."

Upon completion, Cliett will cut herself free from the cocoon, symbolizing the act of freeing herself from materialism.

Cliett is able to coil roughly an inch an hour. The finished project will fit her slender 5'6" frame, with enough width to allow her some space inside to maneuver. By her estimation, it weighs more than 80 pounds, but "it feels like it weighs as much as I do," she said.

Dr. Mary Ruth Smith, art professor at Baylor, is Cliett's independent study instructor. "She has really grown with the piece," Smith said.

Cliett coils the cocoon by standing inside of it, rotating with the piece as she progresses. "When I first started, I was terrified about closing myself up inside of it," Cliett said. "I thought I wouldn't be able to get out. I thought I'd have a panic attack."

The project has helped desensitize her to claustrophobia, though. The more time she spends inside of the cocoon, the more comfortable she feels.

Smith once heard from a sculptor that "you either make art to sell, or you make art for therapy," she said. "I've never forgotten that. I don't make it to sell, but I do make it to keep my sanity."

This is a lesson Smith teaches her Visual Art of Healing class, which focuses on art as a form of therapy and also links art with the medical field.

Smith helped teach a "Stitches and Staples" class with Dr. Karen Pope, lecturer in the arts department. Stitching and stapling are "medical procedures that doctors practice in repairing injuries or in operating to correct a disorder," Smith said.

By allowing medical students to practice these techniques through art, "we got them to use their hands. Dexterity with their hands is really important. Kids today don't grow up using the same tools we did, so they have to learn those skills," she said.

Cliett is also a registered nurse, and has seen the impact of fusing art with medicine firsthand. "(Art) helps soothe people - it helps calm them down," she said.

Smith has developed a close student-teacher relationship with Allyson through the class.

"Allyson is a special individual who has much to offer the medical field, especially in combining art along with healing - healing of patients as well as the well-being of health practitioners," Smith said.

More than 200 art pieces will be judged for the upcoming art show, and only about 75 will make the cut, Smith said. The work will be judged by Sherry Owens, a native Texas artist from Dallas. Students can submit up to four works in any medium.

Cliett is submitting four fabric-related pieces. She won't find out the results until the reception March 24.

"It's a surprise until the doors open Thursday night," she said. "Exciting!"

Student work will be shown in Gallery I, while faculty work will be displayed in Gallery II.

Hooper-Shaefer Fine Arts Center is at 60 Baylor Ave.

For more information, call the museum at 254-710-1867 or visit

by Susie Typher, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805

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