“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”

— Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010)

Bourgeois was a French-American artist proficient in an incredible number of artistic disciplines, but perhaps best known for her large-scale sculptures and installations. Her artwork was often autobiographical, referencing childhood memories—particularly those of her beloved mother and unfaithful father.

Among her most recognizable works is Maman, a massive 30-foot sculpture of a steel spider. The towering structure, whose title translates as mom or mommy in French, pays homage to Bourgeois’ mother Josephine, who passed away when Louise was 21 years old. “I came from a family of repairers,” Louise said. “The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.”

The creature is supported on eight slender legs and has a sac containing 10 marble eggs on its underbelly. It is the largest in a series of spider-themed pieces that became central to Bourgeois’ work in the 1990s. It has been said that her spiders are contradictory representations of motherhood—representing both predator and protector; the silk builds elaborate webs and cocoons, but also binds the spider’s prey. Maman, massive in size, but balanced on thin, spindly legs, is both strength and fragility in one.

Thanks to Milton Sandy for sending along the link and quote.

Photo courtesy of Peter Bellamy



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Click to read 3 comments
  1. sarah

    We have a beautiful Maman spider, about 2 storeys high, installed outside the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. The Gallery is an all-glass structure and forms a great backdrop for the enormous spider. Worth a visit!

  2. Marilyn Carnell

    One of her spider sculptures is at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, AR. Like Florence, an underestimated southern community.

    Yesterday I took my first Alabama Chanin class at the Seeing Expo in Minneapolis. What a joy to be in a roomful of like-minded women!

  3. Milton

    Artists have a way of making us look at things through different perspectives and Louise Bourgeois forever changed my thoughts on spiders. I consider the career path of Natalie Chanin to be remarkably similar in ways to Louis Bourgeois. Natalie’s way of looking at things have given us many new perspectives as well. Bourgeois’s massive Maman sculpture is free for viewing to all at the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.