The Old Man and the Spider: Knight’s Spider Web Farm

October 12, 2013 — This was one of those oddities where I had no clue what to expect. I didn’t know if the place was open or if it had closed long ago. If the information for it online was out of date or current. If it was a tiny shack behind somebody’s house or a prominent tourist attraction. But it had a name that was just too cool not to go and find out: Knight’s Spider Web Farm.

It’s located in Williamston, Vermont, just south of the state capital of Montpelier. From the few pictures I’d seen of the place, I expected it to be in a rural location. Turns out, it’s on a road right off the town’s main street.

And that road is named Knight’s Spider Web Farm Road.

It looked more like a private drive, and angled up a hill and into some trees. I couldn’t see what was at the end, but another couple of signs encouraged us to continue up the incline.

It dead-ended after a short distance at an open lot surrounded by wilderness. On one side was a house and a large red barn, on the other a pair of shacks without front walls. There was nowhere to park except right on the grass, so that’s what we did. As we got out and stretched, an old man scuttled from the house into the red barn, where a sign above the door read, “Spider Web Farm.”

We walked around the clearing a bit first. It was a pleasant enough little area. A sign at the edge of the woods read “Spider Crossing,” but what immediately drew our attention were the racks of rough frames hanging in the shack. A sign above one of the shacks read,

Welcome to Knight’s Spider Web Farm
Over 16 Thousand Collected Since 1977!
“The Original Web Site”

A yellow sign similar to the Spider Crossing sign cautioned, “Spiders at Work. Sorry, no entry behind this point.”

The shacks were a web factory. Each frame was there to give spiders a place to spin. We looked closely at the racks and, although we saw some filaments of web here and there, they were mostly empty of arachnid butt stuff. I don’t know if it was the time of day or if winter was too close for the comfort of spiders, or if the webs had already been harvested.

That’s right. Harvested…for art.

The explanation for the above sentence was just a few steps away inside the red barn. There we found a gift shop where every vertical and horizontal surface was covered in spider webs.

But it wasn’t because the place hadn’t been cleaned. The webs were all somehow affixed to solid wooden boards of varying sizes, each one pegged on the back with a price tag and the name of the man who had worked the magic: Will Knight. And he was right behind the counter.

He was short, slim, white-bearded and bespectacled. He had to be in his 80s. It was hard to imagine he was singled-handedly responsible for the hundreds of webs piled around the shop. Even with the help of his army of eight-legged friends.

“Oh, it’s okay. She ain’t gonna hurt ’em.”

This was the first thing he said to me, and it was in response to me panicking when my child immediately started running her fingers over the nearest piece of web art. Knight protects the web with a thin finish that’s impossible to tell is there without actually touching the board.

“So you’re Will Knight?”

“I am. And I have too many spider webs.”

We shook hands, and I noticed the faded tattoos on his knuckles. I believe they were letters, but I couldn’t quite read them. Another tattoo peeked out from under the sleeve of his plaid shirt. Online, there’s a picture of him in short sleeves that show his arms covered in tattoos, including spider webs on each elbow.

Anytime I see an old man with tons of tattoos I assume he’s a man with tons of stories…and a few years he’ll refuse to talk about.

He explained to me how he collected the webs. He coats a finished web in paint to make it more distinguishable, and then covers one of his boards with an adhesive. He then catches the web on the board. If he does it right, the entire web sticks without any distortion of its shape.

It’s something that sounds incredibly simple and incredibly hard to do at the same time. If there had been any webs in those frames on our arrival, I’m pretty sure I’d of paid money to give it a try.

As we looked around for the perfect piece of web art to add to my study, Knight hit it off with my daughter, showing her some rubber spiders he had hanging around. Eventually, we found a piece that seemed to be destined for us, and then said our goodbyes. Before leaving, I asked if we could walk around the grounds some more and take pictures.

“Of course. As much as you want. One guy came up here last week and asked if he and his family could picnic here. Didn’t buy anything. Didn’t seem interested in the spider webs. Just wanted a nice place to eat.”

After we did that for a while, which was a nice break from the long road trip we were on, we started to load up into the car. However, we stopped when we saw Will shambling up to us. “Hey, could you hold up a bit? My wife wants to take a picture of you.”

His wife came out with her camera, and we got to talk with her for a while, as well. Her pride in her husband’s work was pretty obvious, and shes told us she wanted pics of his happy customers. Since that described us perfectly, we complied. Will and me and my daughter, who refused to get more than three feet away from him at any given time, all posed for a pic with the spider web that we had purchased.

That picture is posted on their website now. Their other web site.

A spider web farm. Of all the cool things in the world.