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American Spiders and Charlotte’s Web

White

White

White, E. B., Garth Williams, and Edith Goodkind Rosenwald. 1952. Charlotte's web. New York: Harper.

White, E. B., Garth Williams, and Edith Goodkind Rosenwald. 1952. Charlotte’s web. New York: Harper.

Now that you have had the chance to view images from, and perhaps peruse online, last week’s featured blog book, American Spiders and Their Spinningwork. A Natural History of the Orbweaving Spiders of the United States, with Special Regard to Their Industry and Habits by Henry C. McCook, I will share with you the charming story of how the barn spider Charlotte, who wove inspirational messages into her web to save the life of a doomed pig named Wilbur, came to be!

“In the writing of a spider, I did not make the spider adapt her ways to my scheme. I spent a year studying spiders before I ever started writing the book. In this, I think I found the key to the story.” E.B. (Elwyn Brooks) White

American Spiders and Their Spinningwork was the oldest reference work used for Whites’ Charlotte. Michael Sims writes in his 2011 The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic “. . . Mr.  McCook had a vivid narrative style that fit well with Andy’s close-up view of his diminutive spider character. . ..”

The first page of

The first page of Henry McCook’s “American Spiders,” and the illustration that inspired “Charlotte.”

Nicknamed Andy while in college at Cornell, White found an image of the Eperia genus on McCook’s first page of Volume 1, and decided he would model Charlotte after the characteristics, social habits, appearance, and habitats of the Eperia. White selected cavatica, the Eperia species known as the barn spider, for Charlotte’s last name. On other pages the author referenced orb weaving and typical spider behaviors.

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Eperia cavatica, otherwise known as …. Charlotte.
From “American Spiders and their Spinningwork.”

“Well, I am pretty,” replied Charlotte. “There’s no denying that. Almost all spiders are rather nice-looking. I’m not as flashy as some, but I’ll do(White, Charlotte’s Web)

I see a future Crystal Bridges Library Book Club discussion here! What do you think?

For more information on E.B. White’s inspiring research for Charlottes’ Web see: The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic by Michael Sims, 2011.

Located in Crystal Bridge’s Library, PS3545.H5187 Z925 2011

book coverReferences McCook, Henry C., American Spiders and Their Spinningwork, 175-177, 179-180, 181, 219-20. Sims, Michael. The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic, 2011. Also see NPR’s 2011 interview with Michael Sims, Weaving ‘Charlotte’s Web’

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