Sitting on the huge back porch of my parents’ house in York Harbor the other day, I became fixated on the spider web design of the windows of the house next door. This house (unfortunately) blocks quite a bit of our view of the ocean, but is (fortunately) a magnificent creation: large and white and gleaming, with lots of architectural details. It has the appearance of a Colonial Revival house and I know it was built after our Shingle “cottage”, so the dates fit–but the spider web windows do not: they look a little whimsical for this classically-constrained house. I’ve been looking at these web windows my whole life but never really considered them before. Years ago my mother transformed a small window in the front of our house into a stained-glass mosaic in the design of a web; I doubt she was inspired by the web windows in front as a veritable forest existed between that house and ours at that time.
Apparently the spider web was a prominent design motif of the Arts and Crafts movement, along with the dragonfly, the firefly and the crane, all indicating the influence of Japanese visual culture in the later Victorian era on both sides of the Atlantic. Just a few minutes of web research brought me to the spider web windows in the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, and more interestingly (to me) to the work of Chicago-era architect R. Harold Zook (1889-1949), who incorporated spider webs motifs in all of his houses and even as his trademark. I had never heard of Zook before: wow! And just to illustrate how ageless and universal the spider web window can be I’ve included a charming little pane from the Zouche Chapel at York Minster, dating from the late medieval era and encased in a chapel panel in the sixteenth century.
A great site for R. Harold Zook‘s Houses, both lost and surviving.
August 9th, 2015 at 9:08 am
As the house is in York, Maine, I think the nautical motif might also be part of it – the wheel of a schooner – as well as a variation on Thomas Jefferson’s fretwork fence patterns.
There was also academic/intellectual interest in geometry – as a way to bring order after the froth of high style Queen Anne extravaganza.
The spider webs you found and the reference to Harold Zook are fine! I am glad to know of both.
August 10th, 2015 at 8:08 am
Thanks Jane, I didn’t even consider the nautical angle….
October 25th, 2016 at 6:44 am
Hi Donna – I have piece of the puzzle. The spider windows in York Harbor cottages were one of the signatures of EB Blaisdell, a local architect who did work between 1885-1910. Your cottage – The Hubbard Brown Cottage and your neighbors (in these photos) – Stonecroft were both designed by EB Blaisdell. Check out my website for the York Harbor Cottage Project: www-YHCottage.com
October 26th, 2016 at 7:35 am
Thank you so much, Doug. Love your site! Found it after I posted on the windows–more spiders on the blog today!
March 15th, 2018 at 11:23 am
I live in a log home in Russell Kentucky that I restored over a period of years starting 18 years ago – It was built in 1933 and has a huge spiderweb front window about 12 feet tall – It has 232 separate panes of glass in it
March 16th, 2018 at 5:49 am
Would love to see a photograph, les!
May 11th, 2020 at 5:26 pm
I have a door that was found in the attic of a 1910 house that while restoring it, I have been trying to find history on it. It has a spiderweb pane in the center and while googling, that led me here! Thanks for more great information! P
May 11th, 2020 at 7:56 pm
Well that’s wonderful! 1910 sounds about right for that motif.