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The Spider

You know how you hear a new word or one thought and then suddenly you hear it everywhere? Last Sunday I started thinking about the spider. I was walking to church, listening to NPR, not really paying attention but something planted a seed or maybe an egg or a germ of an idea. I thought of this photograph by my aunt Jan of a spider's web adorned by morning dew.

Dew on a spiders' web

She told me that as the image emerged in the developing tray she almost jumped out of her skin when a spider appeared. Do you see it? Right in the middle. Jan was terrified of spiders although she appreciated their beautiful handiwork. I keep this in my studio and think of her.

The spider holds a vital position in our ecosystem as both predator and prey for a multitude of other animals. I'm grateful for every mosquito caught in a cobweb and so never got to bite me.

But today I'm thinking of the spider as muse.

Look at this sculpture by Louise Bourgeoise. This sculpture is titled Maman!

Louise Bourgeoise, Maman

Scary? Like the alien invaders in the movie, War of the Worlds? But here's what one critic says,

"We find in this sculpture the metaphors of spinning, weaving, care and protection. The maternity theme is also present when we look under the abdomen: a kind of fenced pocket holds 26 marble eggs."

Louise Bourgeouise's mother, a weaver who repaired the tapestries in her husband's workshop, died when Louise was young and so this is a work of remembrance and great tenderness, protection and benevolence. She said, “The spider is an ode to my mother (…) because my mother was as smart, patient, clean and useful, reasonable, essential as a spider.

Louise Bourgeoise's first spider was this pencil drawing from 1947.

Louise Bourgeouise, pencil drawing of a spider

And this elegant drypoint etching.

Louise Bourgeouise etching of a spider

My friend, Valerie, was a wonderful mother who never missed a chance to teach her son, Ted, or open his eyes to the sublime in the everyday. He found a spider's web in their cellar door and so kept her as a pet, naming her, of course, Charlotte. Then the babysitter killed Charlotte.

That brings us to the great spider of literature, a writer in her own right, the heroic Charlotte.

Cover of Charlotte's web, detail

Here she is in close-up, by Garth Williams, another master of line drawing.


a spider in her web

This week's New Yorker features a piece about Argentina born artist, Tomas Saraceno, whose work comments on environmental justice and envisions a future free of fossil fuels. Particular Matters, his first major US exhibition at Hudson Yards, features a giant web that you can climb on.

Tomas Saraceno

It also has framed spider webs in glass frames.

Tomas Saraceno

Saraceno says, "I just put up the frame, invite the spider to come, it weaves the web and then moves out and the art work is ready... Who is the artist? I don't know anymore."

Then he says, "We can admire their work, and go from arachnophobia to arachnophilia!"

And now a word from Walt Whitman. A NOISELESS PATIENT SPIDER A noiseless patient spider, I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated, Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding, It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself, Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them. And you O my soul where you stand Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them, Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

March 24, 2022

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