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Closet of the Spiderweb Lady
Possibly the world's smallest art museum is nestled between chakra power stones and a bathroom.

Closet of the Spiderweb Lady

Field review by the editors.

Huntsville, Alabama

It sounds like the title of a bad mystery novel, but the Closet of the Spiderweb Lady is a real place. For 30 years it was the tiny studio of Anne Bradshaw Clopton, famous in her lifetime as the world's foremost "cobweb artist."

Anne Bradshaw Clopton.
Anne in the closet, hard at work.

Anne (1878-1956) was only 11 when she read a magazine article about a German artist who painted pictures on spiderwebs. Intrigued, Anne tried it and failed; but she kept trying, and eventually mastered the secrets of the art. Years later she discovered that the German only painted on layers of webs, at least a half-inch thick. By accident, Anne had become the only person in the world who could paint on individual spiderwebs.

For years Anne terrorized the spiders of Huntsville, stealing their homes. She would cut little frames out of mat board and use them to snag webs that she found in neighborhood barns and attics. She learned to recognize the species of spiders that spun the densest webs, and the times of year that the webs were the strongest. She developed her own paint mixtures that would resist sagging, cracking, or tearing the webs. The paint had to be applied in microscopic dots, using a magnifying glass and a single-hair brush, painstakingly filling the gaps between the individual web threads. Even the smallest artwork took thousands of dots and many weeks to complete -- if it didn't collapse before it was finished.

When Anne and her family moved into her new home in 1926, the closet became her studio -- and a tourist attraction. Visitors from across the country would stop by. Many left deposits for future paintings. Anne could crank out 20 a year and sell them for up to $75 apiece. She exhibited her art at the 1939 New York World's Fair, and was featured in "Industry on Parade," a newsreel that celebrated her closet business as an inspirational example of American free enterprise.

Tools of the Spiderweb Lady.
Grandson Bobby next to Anne's brushes, paint, and bottle caps.

That was many years ago. Most of Anne's fragile paintings have decayed or been lost. The 21st century would likely never have known about Anne and her closet were it not for Ron and Jerrine Gray, who in 2007 converted her old house into a New Age gift shop, then spent three years restoring her closet.

William McKinley in spider webs.
Painted in 1902, the spiderweb version of President McKinley has lasted far longer than its human counterpart.

"We knew about her when we bought the house," said Ron. "It had a history and we wanted to preserve it."

The Grays went to the local museum (where Anne had willed her collection), found as many of Anne's surviving paintings as they could, then photographed them and hung them in frames just as Anne had done. The Grays matched a cedar-lined closet in the house to the one seen in Anne's old photos, and filled it with Anne's original art supplies: ancient tubes of paint, bottle caps for mixing, tiny brushes. "All of this was found in the house," said Ron.

The casualty rate for Anne's art was high, even in her lifetime. "A lot of her paintings were destroyed at the World's Fair," said Ron. "People would poke holes in them to see if they were real." Still, a few survived, mostly those that were Anne's personal keepsakes. "Portrait of a Woman" may be of Anne herself at a young age. There's a painting of one of her cats, and her house, and her grandson, Bobby. He drowned in a fountain in the front yard, according to Ron.

There's even a tiny portrait of President McKinley, so old that it predates the closet.

"You can see where some of the webs have broken," said Ron, pointing to rips the paintings. "They're kind of deteriorating; they're going to go away." But, he said of the restored closet, "Now they're up there, and people will still be able to see them."

With the Spiderweb Lady long gone, does the house have spiders? Ron said yes, but as far as he knew no spider has ever dared spin a web inside Anne's closet.

Also see: Bug Art of John Hampson

Closet of the Spiderweb Lady

The Dream Maker

4004 Triana Blvd, Huntsville, AL
The Dream Maker. South edge of the city. Drive south on Triana Blvd SW, pass Drake Ave., and it will be on your right before you get to Johnson Landing and the Animal Shelter.
Tu-Sa 10:30-5:30 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Save to My Sights

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