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A Golden Spider Silk Textile

November 3, 2011

I went to see the Golden Spider Silk Textile exhibit at MAIC since it is closing soon.  I thought the name of the exhibit related to African mythology, like the Anansi story cycles.  I did not expect that the actual fiber work was made from the stuff of spider’s webs.

The information displayed with the textile was echoed on the exhibit webpage:

“Strands of silk from over one million of Madagascar’s golden orb spiders (Nephila madagascariensis) were woven together to make this dazzling textile, the only one of its kind in the world. Completed in 2008, the panel’s story underscores the globalism that is characteristic of many textile genres in Africa. Created by Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley, the loan of this rare textile celebrates the opening of the Art Institute’s redesigned galleries of African art and Indian art of the Americas.

The idea of harnessing spider silk for weaving is an age-old dream that was first attempted in a methodical way in France in the early 18th century. In the 1880s, Father Paul Camboué, a French Jesuit priest, brought the dream to Madagascar. Intrigued by the strength and beauty of the silk produced by the island’s golden orb spider, he began to collect and experiment with it. In 1900 a set of bed hangings was woven from spider silk at Madagascar’s Ecole Professionelle and exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris (today the whereabouts of those hangings are unknown). But the idea of creating an industry that could compete with Chinese silk (produced from silkworms) proved unrealistic.

In 2003 partners Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley, longtime residents of Madagascar, revived the spider-silk dream. They assembled a team of over 80 women and men with local knowledge of spiders and weaving to work on the project. It took them five years—and a good deal of trial and error, invention, and perseverance—to gather the spider silk and weave this cloth in the elaborate textured patterns of a lamba akotifahana, a 19th-century luxury textile of Madagascar’s Merina people.”

Pins were placed at intervals along the work to hold it upright in a well-it case with a slight slant from the bottom to the top.  The raised design of the weaving had a very small pattern, repetitions of the pattern would fit in the palm of your hand.  The material had the sheen of silk, a luster that was pearly and rich. 

The video below shows the work in the process of being woven and shows the scale better.    There is also further information on the origin of the art work, the history that led to its creation and its technical and scientific aspects:

Categories: Art History, Uncategorized
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