Giant spider created by student catches professor’s eye

Kefyn Catley has a thing about spiders – studying and appreciating them, not smashing them with newspapers or shoes. But while Catley, associate professor of biology and coordinator of the secondary science education program, has seen his share of arthropods, not even he was prepared for the specimen he recently encountered.

Catley, a member of the WCU Civic Orchestra (he plays cello), was on his way to rehearsal in the Coulter Building recital hall when, when walking up the corridor, “I saw a huge spider on the wall there,” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe it.”

At nearly 4 feet across and close to 30 pounds, the spider earned a closer look, which revealed an exoskeleton made of 900 bamboo skewers and the name of an artist, Courtney Crigger, a senior majoring in art and music. Catley contacted Crigger, and the two negotiated a price that allowed Catley to add the work to his collection. For now, the spider is on display outside Catley’s office in Stillwell, where a sign informs those considering it, “No, you can’t touch it.” Concerned for its safety, Catley plans to find space for it in the biology department office, a protected environment where others can still enjoy it.

“It’s really an outstanding piece of work,” said Catley, who is impressed on two fronts. First, that Crigger recognized the beauty of bugs, and second, by her degree of accuracy. “It’s very anatomically correct,” he said. “Usually when you see spiders, everything’s wrong.”

Crigger based the sculpture on the giant “banana spiders” of Japan, where, as the child of a Marine, she lived for six years until she was 10. The size of the spider, which grew – and grew – as the result of an assignment in a 3-D design class, was unintentional, Crigger said. “It just kind of accidentally got as big as it did. I started with – I don’t know what the scientific term is,” she said, explaining that the spider’s abdomen is the size she envisioned for the entire sculpture. “I didn’t feel like starting over,” she said. She estimates she spent 100 hours constructing the spider, as well as $15 at Walmart on shish kabob skewers and hot glue sticks.

Catley appreciates Crigger’s marriage of art and science.

“All good scientists are very creative people,” he said. “Classical art and classical science – there’s not a lot of difference between the two.”

He has encouraged Crigger to consider pursuing work in scientific model-making for museums.

“There are people who earn a living making these models. It’s incredibly specialized,” he said.

Crigger, a bassoonist, arrived at WCU from Raleigh intending to pursue music education with a minor in art. In the meantime, she “ended up pretty much falling in love with ceramics.” As she prepares for 2012 graduation, she is not ruling out model-making entirely, but for now remains committed to a goal of one day teaching college-level ceramics and owning her own studio.