Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Spider Web Farm

Spider Web Farm Road?  Ewww.  Who would want to live there? 


We happened upon Spider Web Farm Road while meandering.  We were in the car and knew the final destination was “home”, but were taking our sweet time getting there from Burlington, VT.  The trip had started with a purpose – developing and rehearsing a new theatre piece in Maine.  That objective had been accomplished (for now) – leaving farms, old cemeteries, and interesting little towns to explore. 

So when I spotted the street sign for Spider Web Road, I hollered, “Stop!  Let’s take a photo!”.  We turned around and then noticed it was more than just a ROAD – it was (as the sign proclaimed) the SPIDER WEB FARM. 

Curious…  We had stopped at a couple farms already to pick up home grown corn, peaches, caramel made with goat milk, and admire huge sunflowers.  Surely this was the same as those other farms – a FARM named SPIDER WEB, not a farm that GREW spider webs!  Growing spider webs is only something that would happen in a children’s picture book.  But we couldn’t drive on without making sure…

So back in the car and up the hill we went.  An old red two story barn-looking house was on the right – and a red, open large garage on the left.  As we parked I saw the old sign hanging on the house – SPIDER WEB FARM…  And as we got out, a little old man peeked out the second story open window and hollered out to us that he would be right down.

Soon we met Mr. Will Knight – the proprietor of Spider Web Farm.  He is in his late 80s (I think he told us 88 or 89 years old) and a spry little man who loves to talk.  He was excited we had stopped to visit and he promptly told us the story of his work. 

He used to be a cabinet maker, but since the late 1970s he has been a spider web harvester.  Yes siree – he GROWS SPIDER WEBS!!  Then he makes then into ART!  The garage we saw (and another one behind) are where the webs form.  We were honored to be shown the entire operation and especially excited to see the WEBS!

He has made and hung wooden frames in the garages.  The spiders must like them, because they come in and make webs.  “Around once a day” Will comes out to check his web crop.  He wore pretty thick glasses and I am guessing at his age webs are not the easiest things to see, but he has a task to do!  When he sees a good web – pretty design, unbroken – he sets about collecting it.  To do that, he starts with a can of white spray paint.  He talked for a long time to us on the merits of this paint vs. that one – it was really sweet.  The man goes through a LOT of paint!  He thoroughly coats the web so that he can see it better and make sure it is worth harvesting.  If it IS, he moves on to his “better paint” (insert another long paint discussion here).  When he has the web just the way he likes it, he takes a piece of wood that he has sanded and painted during the winter (his off season), and verrrry carefully pulls it up behind the web – CAPTURING the intricate web on the wood!!  And of course, the masterpiece must be topped off with more paint – lacquer.  It is lovely!! 

It was so fun to work with him on the webs!!  I thought I had found just the right one – it was small and beautiful.  So he set to work with his paint to prepare it.  But the more paint he put on, and the more the gentle breeze blew, the less “perfect” my find was.  Drat!  David and I were tempted to make suggestions – to HELP.  We both were wondering “Why is this garage OPEN?  Why isn’t there a thing to shield the wind??” and other “helpful” things.  But Will has been farming spider webs for decades now – let’s leave it to the master, shall we?

I found another web and he was eager to try that one.  Paint.  More paint.  Paint…  Oh – this one was good!!!  Will disappeared to the back of the garage and all the sudden we heard the sound of a big FAN.  What???  Yes – this must be part of the system!  Ok Will – you are the expert!  He came back with a beautifully sanded and painted piece of wood and finished the job of mounting the web.  It was terrific!!  He declared it was not perfect, but it sure looked nice to me.

While David and Will chatted some more (did I mention Will likes to talk?) I popped into the store to see what web art goes for these days…  Turns out they are not cheap!  But of course, I needed to bring one home.  How can you visit a Spider Web Farm, see all the work that goes into the art, and leave empty handed?  I found a section of small webs and Will later told me he calls those “Grandma pieces” – because when Grandmas come with grandchildren they want to buy EACH CHILD a plaque, and the small ones are priced just right for that. 

I chose my “Grandma piece” and took it to the front to pay.  There were fun signs up everywhere – bad spider and web puns and old articles that had been written about Will and his interesting farm.  It took us about 20 minutes to pay because of confusion (not on our part…) about the price and exact change.  It was funny.  He was asking about us, too, and when we told him we were from the DC area he got a little gleam in his eye.  “Oh!  I had a man in here a while back from DC!!  He bought 4 plaques, too.  And I could tell he was someone important, but then when he told me what he did and who he was, I knew he was really important!  He was in the, the…” .  Turns out the man he met was a big wig in the Secret Service.  Will was excited to share a gift with us that the man had given him – a special pass to get into the White House!  He pulled out a big stack of passes, and each one was separated by a little yellowed piece of tissue paper (like a wedding invitation).  These were fancy passes – tiny, business card sized  each with a lovely official seal.  I could tell the pass he gave me was old, but wasn’t sure when it was from.  When we examined it later it was clear that it was ancient – the only info that is required of the bearer is a right index finger print, age, birth date, height, weight, hair and eye color, address, and signature.  But I didn’t know HOW ancient until I looked up the person whose signature is on it – Baughman, Chief, United States Secret Service.  He held that position from 1948 – 1961 for Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy and he died in 1978.  Our spider web farmer has had that stack of passes for a very, very long time. 

So, I am home now.  I have not decided on the perfect spot to hang my web art.  My White House admission card is on my desk – even if it WOULD get me into the White House for a tour, would I want to part with it?  But, like most adventures, the thing I treasure most about our visit to Spider Web Farm is the memory of it – the feel of the sunshine, the smell of the paint, the grandeur of the webs… 

Yes – I would live on Spider Web Farm Road.  

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