The Dale C. Maley Family Web Site

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Cahokia Spider Design in Stained Glass

One of my many hobbies is reading and studying about old civilizations like the Indians who lived in Cahokia, Illinois and built the huge Monk's Mound just outside St. Louis, Missouri.

I was reading a special 1986 Illinois Archeology Association book........


The original pendant was 3 to 4 inches in diameter and was found with a skeleton, meaning the man had been wearing this around his neck with a string when his body was buried. I thought it was a pretty cool 1,000 year depiction of a spider :)

Could I make this in stained glass??   Well, not in a 4 inch round pendant.............because the individual pieces would be too small.  But, if I went to a 12 inch diameter round panel that you hang in a window..........then yes I can :)

For the black dots, I will oven bake on Pebeo black paint drops.

I'm thinking the spider is amber color in a pale blue skylight color.  I am not sure about the rest of the colors yet.

A good future winter project !

Some history from the Illinois State Museum - Dickson Mounds

What do spider gorgets and spiders on other Mississippian works of art signify? What did they mean to the people who made them? Of course, to investigate this we have to refer to Native American stories and beliefs. But the stories are plentiful and variable, and are told by many different tribal groups, some of which may have made these ornaments and some who did not. So which accounts are most appropriate in interpreting what was in the minds of Mississippians 500-700 years ago?

We can get hints of which stories might apply by looking at geographic distributions and looking closer at clues such as form and artistic styles. All of the Mississippian spiders are detailed with head, mouth, and leg parts that unmistakably identify them as orb weavers, the familiar family of spiders (Araneidae) who make circular webs with radial geometric layouts to ensnare their prey. But in spite of these extremely exact attributes, all of the Mississippian spiders also have a part – a central area - that does not match the anatomy of orbweavers or any other type of spider. Between the head and abdomen some have a circle and cross, and others just a circle. But spider anatomy only has two body parts - an abdomen and a cephalothorax. That extra part of the design means something – with the frequent use of a circle and cross probably connecting to a nearly universal Mississippian upper world symbol – the sacred fire.

The areas where Mississippian spiders are known is far too large for them to have been made by any one tribal group, language family, or even broader affiliations (Map 1, with stars showing Mississippian spiders). Clearly many different tribes and language families were involved in the Mississippian culture. And when we highlight tribes that had spider stories there are even more choices of possible meanings (Map 2).

Orb weaver spiders

There are many different species of these spiders that build the concentric rings. Here is a typical one.  Note: there is no cross in the center of the spider.

Color Change

To give the panel a more natural tone, I'm going with brown on the outer edges.  I may also display this panel in a lighted LED box.

Outer border of panel

I don't have a bender to bend a zinc frame material, so I go with lead around the outer border.  The glass will be copper foiled.

I probably need to increase the OD of the panel, to account for the thickness of the lead border.

I made a wood frame out of 3/16" luan plywood to keep the OD at the size I wanted, about 12-1/8".

Glass selection

I chose an amber for the spider, and a darker brown/white mix for the outer border.........both came from hobby lobby.  I don't know where I bought the light blue for the sky. I used some hobby lobby red for the small cross in the center of the spider.

Outer Rings cut and foiled

About 1/4 Built

Pebeo Paint

Pebeo makes 2 styles of paint, make sure you get the "Porcelain one".  The other kind, I forget the name, does not give you nice solid colors.

Almost an OOOOPS

I use my oven to quick dry paint and polyurethane.  I set it at roughly 120 F, and I set the wood parts on scrap pieces of wood.

The last time I used Pebeo paints, I like them back for maybe an hour at 120F, instead of following the directions to bake at 300F for 35 minutes.  This time I decided to follow the instructions, and bake at 300F for 25 minutes.   Pretty quickly, I started to smell charred wood from the oven !!!!!!   I should have removed the scrap wood pieces and used a metal pan to hold the glass pieces !!   I got the wood out and used a metal pan, and everything was ok.

I changed the pattern slightly because the center of 5 dots would have been on a solder joint.

Stained glass panel soldered and ready for patina

Sketchup Design of Box

Glued up 1x4's to make front face

Making 8 sided box

My Merlin clamp set only has 6 clamps and I need 8 for this I reverted back to the old nail and string clamp method :)

Black Patina applied


I made the same mistake on this project as on the box for the old City Hall SG panel!!   I am in such a hurry to glue and clamp up the box, I forget to make the groove in the back for the back cover !!   I caught it in time, washed off the glue, then on 2 passes routed the back groove, then glued and clamped up.

Tracing actual parts versus printing out Sketchup Design

Because the slightest error in the length of the 8 pieces, it is better to trace the Luan plywood parts versus relying on the design print-out.

LED strip light

The strip light is 16 feet long, or 192 inches.  The inside of the box is about 8 times 6 inches or 48 inches........this means there is enough strip light for 4 wraps around the inside of the box.

When I had 2 rounds done, which is what I have done on past projects, I tested it, and it had plenty of light.  I cut the strip at the line with the 4 copper dots and the end of 2 rounds and it still worked fine.  Two rounds gave plenty of light, in fact the medium setting is about right for this project with 2 wraps.

Sticker for the Back

I wanted to tell the story on the back of the wood box, so I made this sticker, then glued it on, and then used shellac on the back.

Inside of back cover painted white, and ring painted white

Installing LED strip with plastic clips/screws

Exploded view of project

Sketchup Warehouse

I uploaded a copy of my design to the Sketchup warehouse. You can download it using this link.

Finished Project

Closing Thoughts on this Project

This was a fun project and illustrates how to build an 8-sided LED lighted display box for stained glass panels.