Stories from the Barn

A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands

Inspired by The Orb Spider

The web of the Orb Spider

What nature inspires art, could it be the orb spider?

Many artists and writers use nature to inspire their work. I felt inspired by the orb spider on my walk in the field today. It made me think how nature inspires art. The landscape artist looks to the shape and texture of the landscape and at how that landscape breaks into the sky, in fact the juxtaposition of the two often seems to be at the very heart of the piece.

Writers may take inspiration from from the landscape and either write about it in a direct manner or use it to create layers of complexity with people and objects. Some others look more closely at nature and takes inspiration from what they see on the micro level and today’s inspiration comes in the form of the Orb spider, so called because of the circular web the female spider makes. E.B White, author of the wonderful book, ‘Charlotte’s Web’, had something to say about the world populated by spiders.

“Once you begin watching spiders, you haven’t time for much else”

The Orb spider web

The female Orb spider sits at the centre of her web.

Walking into a dew filled field filled with spider webs.

An early morning walk on a cold dew soaked September morning in the still uncut long grass, is a magical experience. It is as if overnight, the field has switched from a habitat full of flowers and grasses to ripening seed heads. Much more than that though, it has become a jewelry display. Every blade of grass connected to those around it by fine silver threads and great meshes of Orb spider webs. The webs are heavy with dew and so full of swaying silver bells you fear their collapse.

The orb spiders are responsible for this bewitching sight. The female orb spider that made the webs in the field this morning, still needs to be identified. There are over 650 species of spider in Britain and I cannot name them other than to identify them by their body parts, ‘daddy long legs’ or by when they appear, ‘October spiders’. If we had 650 species of mammals I am pretty sure I would be able to identify several hundred. Something to think about.

The web of the Orb Spider

Catching dew drops on the web.

The unidentified orb spider.

Returning to the unidentified orb spider whose overnight activities created this splendid morning vista. The female spider spins this web in about 2 hours or indeed several webs because between a group of webs, I notice long single threads of silk swaying between the blades of grass and trees and bushes. Using her weight as a pendulum she is able to swing between them all, laying out her webs. First she lays down the radial threads and then begins the artistry of web spinning as she creates a spiral. The sticky mesh created, she sits at its centre, head pointing downwards and waits for her prey. At first vibration she dashes towards her victim and rapidly spins a cocoon before delivering a small amount of venom (not harmful to us) before sucking the juices from the unfortunate victim.

One of the Honey Bee Barn Book Box choices is the ‘Natural History of Selborne’ by Gilbert White. He observed nature in infinite detail and wrote of a scene that a neighbour of his observed, that of a snow fall of gossamer spider webs, ‘twinkling in the sun’ that had been lifted aloft and were falling around him. White acknowledged the webs were once considered with great superstition but states that now in these days of the C18th no one doubts they are the production of small spiders.

White observes;

“Every day if fine weather, in Autumn chiefly, do I see those spiders shooting out their webs and mounting aloft”

Completely in awe of what the spider manages to achieve and grateful for the water droplets making it so obvious, I wondered what artists had drawn inspiration from this architectural beauty.

Art inspired by the spider web.

Modern artist Tomas Saraceno, has taken the science and architecture of the spider web to a new height. Watch this short video by Tomas and be prepared to be totally stunned by this blend of art and science.

Read about how Saraceno and Professor Markus Buehler exchanged ideas about spider’s webs, art and science at the MIT Museum

So one thought leads to another and in looking for artists whose work was inspired by the spider web I discovered Candace Wheeler, a woman about whom I knew nothing. Born in 1827, Candace Wheeler was an American textile designer. This fascinating artist is known as the ‘mother of interior design’. She was brought up in an abolitionist household and worked tirelessly to support women into education, work and business. She founded the Society of Decorative Arts in New York in 1877 and  in 1879 she joined forces with Louis Comfort Tiffany and co-founded the interior-decorating firm of Tiffany & Wheeler which was to become Tiffany and Co.

Candace was inspired by the spider web and used it to produce an almost tessellated design that might be used on a textile. It shows the spider web capturing the bees.

orb spider art

Candace Wheeler . Pen, black ink and gouache. Creative Commons CCO 1.0. Donated to Wiki Commons by Metropolitan Museum of Art.