Eek, A Spider?

Possible Classroom Concepts: Science – Arachnids

Language Arts – Literature – Charlotte’s Web, Symbols, Writing, Adjectives

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Louise Bourgeois, Odilon Redon

Sculpture, Painting, Drawing, SymbolismFullSizeRender

Louise Bourgeois’ “Spider”

In conjunction with an art history class on sculpture, I recently visited The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. Take your own virtual tour of the sculpture garden through this interactive story:

One of the works we viewed was the spider sculpture pictured above. Before studying this work, I would have passed this baby right by. I find spiders a little creepy. Bourgeois, on the other hand, views spiders as protectors, a lot like Charlotte is portrayed in the novel, Charlotte’s Web. Actually, this spider sculpture is a portrait of the artist’s mother. “What?”, you may say. Well, let me explain. Her mother used to repair tapestries, so she was a weaver just like a spider. The other reasons may best be explained by the artist herself in the following quote.

“The spider—why the spider? Because

my best friend was my mother and she

was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing,

reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable,

neat, and as useful as a spider.”

—Louise Bourgeois

Bourgeois made many spider works in different mediums and sizes. Read more about them here.

Did you note that one sculpture version, “Maman”, is thirty feet tall? Measure out thirty feet with your students, so that they can see just how tall it is.

Find some spider projects here:


Another caring spider can be found in the picture book, Sophie’s Masterpiece by Eileen Spinelli. You can view a reading of this wonderful book here:’s%20Masterpiece

Find a different interpretation of a spider in this painting by Odilon Redon:

Talk with your students about symbolism. Brainstorm some adjectives which could best describe a loved one. Next think of animals that might come to mind. Here are some examples:

Speed – cheetah, hare

Industrious, hard working – ants

Loyal, unconditional love – dog

Busy, protective – bees, beaver

Wise – owl, elephant

Beautiful, graceful – swan

Proud, beauty – peacock 

Shy – sheep

Slow and steady wins the race – tortoise

Graceful – gazelle

Stubborn – donkey

Peace – Dove

Eagle eyed, sharp vision – eagle

Sly – fox

Courage – lion

Like to monkey around, mischievous – monkey

Put something away for a winter’s day – squirrel

 Can you think of more? Bourgeois chose a spider to symbolize her mother. Ask students to choose an animal/animals that best symbolize their mom or some other important person in their lives. Have them draw the animal/hybrid animal (like suggested in the Redon Lesson) and write an adjective filled explanation similar to Bourgeois’.

Students could also compare and contrast Bourgeois’, Redon’s and real spiders.

So, whether you are teaching a science or literature unit, how about adding Louise Bourgeois, Odilon Redon or both and enrich your lesson.

Please stop by again real soon!


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