In Williamstown, Vermont we met 85-year-old Will Knight. Mr. Knight is tiny, no taller than five foot five, but sturdy and still very fit. Poking from below his rolled up dress shirt sleeves are tanned arms covered in faded 60 year-old ink, most noticeable are the spider webs than envelop each elbow.
He has worked a bicycle pickup boy for Western Union and a tugboat shipmate (where he got his 20-something tattoos), spent 8 years in the Navy during WWII and had careers as a property and tax assessor and became an entrepreneur when he was laid off from a state job at age 53.
But now, Mr. Knight runs an artist colony of sorts, although, this artist commune is unlike any other encampment in the country. This colony is not cooperative. In fact the artists in this colony are very competitive; they’d eat each other alive if they had the chance. These artists are temperamental, but they aren’t human. Will Knight’s artist colony is filled with spiders – enormous, talented barn spiders – who live rent-free in his old barns.
Will Knight runs Knight’s Spider Web Farm and has sold spider web art for more than 35 years. The art is simple, but quite beautiful and he gives all the credit to the spiders, he says he simply provides the canvas for their art. Apparently relishes being called “Spiderweb Man,” and it makes sense since, as far as we know, he is the only spider web farmer/artist in the United States, and we came to see this man in action.
After spending a little time getting to know each other, Will took us outside to see his harvesting technique. He has built and hung specialized frames in his barns. Each morning, just after sunrise, he begins the process of misting the frames with white spray paint. This illuminates any webs that may have been built the night before, and “paints” the web for the next step.
He then sprays a prepared plaque with glue and pulls it, very carefully, through the web frame. Once the web is on the plaque, he seals it with many coats of fine furniture lacquer which preserves the web as art that will last forever.
Mr. Knight treats his spiders with tender loving care, going so far as to develop a nursery where he protects and prepares egg sacks for reintroduction into the barns. He makes sure not to harvest every web everyday, alternating his collections around the 75 or so frames to ensure that the spiders stay fat and happy. And judging by the size of his artists, they are not skipping meals. He can harvest as many as 25-30 webs a day.
Will is not eccentric, he’s not kooky, in fact he’s absolutely extraordinary. He’s a business man, and he knows how to sell. We bought two pieces, one for our RV and one as a gift. But, we would’ve paid the same amount as an entry fee.
For more information or to order your own spider web art, click here.