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American Spiders

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CAUTION!  Beware, those of you with Arachnophobia: pathological fear or loathing of spiders (Merriam-Webster.com). SONY DSCNOTE:  Crystal Bridges has been blessed this fall with an influx of spiders whose webs have been festooning the windows of the Museum’s dining and gallery bridges as well as the railings and columns of Walker Landing. While some guests may find these seasonal visitors… well… creepy, they are nonetheless part of the natural order of things here on the Museum grounds.  In the spirit of celebrate art AND nature, we as an institution have decided not to attempt to eliminate the spiders, but rather to welcome our eight-legged guests during their brief stay.  (As Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges’ Executive Director says:  “Interpret the spiders, promote the spiders!  NOW ON VIEW!”)  Once their business here is concluded, our grounds team will whisk away the fragments of web as if they had never been here.  In the meantime, it’s perhaps not surprising if we all have spiders on our minds to some degree.  Certainly our Librarian, Catherine Petersen, seems to, as this post will illustrate.  –LD.

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Plate V from American Spiders, Volume III

As you have probably noticed from previous my library blogs, our nineteenth-century American color plate collection is not lacking in interesting genres! One of those happens to be scientific illustration—all types of scientific illustrations—even Arachnology. So at this time of the year, when spiders and their webs are very much associated with Halloween, it seems appropriate to bring out the king of all spider (arachnid) books, 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 (The Internet Archive has the book available online).  A three-volume set published by the author in 1889, 1890, and 1894 at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, it is one of 250 original copies and is signed by the author. Its beauty lies in the fact that it is not only one of the most complete publications of American spiders, but it contains over 30 original hand-colored lithographs of spiders and their webs by Philadelphia scientific illustrators.

SIDEBAR: I suppose I could also go into library/IT lingo and discuss web crawlers or “spiders”;  programs that automatically fetch Web pages, and used to feed pages to search engines. Called “spiders” because they crawl  over the Web and search engine  indexing (Webopedia.com.). But I’ll avoid that because although scary in their own ways, these spiders are a whole different type of arachnid.

I will offer a much more captivating story in next week’s blog where I will discuss another very interesting connection with American Spiders and Their Spinningwork: E.B. White’s beloved novel Charlotte’s Web, of 1952.

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