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A window inside the Rudolph model with cloudy glass, and visible cobwebs inside.
Spider remnants found inside the Rudolph model. Elizabeth Peirce, Conservation Division.

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider: An Unlikely Resident

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This post is written by Conservation Technician Chloe Genter, and guest author Elizabeth Peirce, Object Conservator at the Library of Congress.

There are many people who would think it is a dream to move into a home designed by a famous architect. Apparently, an interesting guest thought the same thing! This architectural model by Paul Rudolph was brought into the Conservation lab for treatment before going on loan.

Conservation staff member Chloe Genter standing over one of the Rudolph architectural models, holding a pair of tweezers in her hand, looking down at the model.
Chloe Genter beginning to dry clean the Rudolph model. Elizabeth Peirce, Conservation Division, 2023.

There are all sorts of things that happen to objects of every kind, and as a Conservation Technician at the Library of Congress, I have seen some fascinating things. When I began working on this model however, I was very surprised at what I came across. At first, to my eye, it looked very cloudy. I thought perhaps it was just dust or some discoloration. But when I examined it more closely, I noticed there seemed to be something within the window, something more than just what it looked like on the surface.

A close-up of one of the windows of the model, depicting cobwebs visible.
Visible cobwebs inside one of the windows. Elizabeth Peirce, Conservation Division, 2023.

I started to notice first one piece of something, and then another piece of something, it was hard to tell what it was through the cloudiness. But then on further observation, one piece started to resemble a leg. And another leg too…It was a spider!

A close-up showing cobwebs inside one of the windows, and also the remains of a deceased spider.
Spider remnants found inside the Rudolph model. Elizabeth Peirce, Conservation Division, 2023.

The question in my mind was whether it was still alive. I couldn’t be sure at first, given the cloudiness. The cloudiness, as it turned out, was just its web. The spider was amongst it, making it hard to tell. After examination and cleaning it was clear the spider had already expired. On one hand, this spider was probably the only resident that was able to live rent-free in this building, even if just in the model. But on the other hand, it certainly had to go.

While spiders generally aren’t considered a museum or archive pest, they do leave behind spiderwebs that can trap other insects which become food for more problematic pests. Whenever items are treated, especially if they are to go out on loan, we want to try to remove any insects from the piece for multiple reasons. First, so we know if any future insect activity is new, and second, so we don’t introduce new pests into either our storage or the borrowing institution’s exhibit spaces.

To remove the spider, we quickly realized that this was going to be a trickier process than anticipated. Back when the model was made, Paul Rudolph’s team was thorough in recreating hallways, windows, and rooms when assembling this piece, so access to the front window area was extremely difficult.

The spider was in an area of the model that was hard to access, as there was no way to reach it from the front, and no gaps it could be extracted through.

Close-up of the window in the model, showing a hand holding a long blue tool trying to wind its way through the model to access the spider remnants.
Staff trying to gain access to the spider. Liz Peirce, Conservation Division, 2023.

Luckily, the model is made of a series of individual floors that are pressure suspended on the vertical wires and can slide up and down. By sliding the floors above the spider up, and placing temporary supports, we were able to get slightly easier access to the correct room.

Conservation staff member Elizabeth Peirce holding a long tool with cotton ball attached to the end, and holding it towards the model.
Liz removing the spider remains after propping up the model by moving the vertical wires. Liz Peirce, Conservation Division, 2023.

After trying multiple different materials (coated electrical wire, a bamboo skewer, long thin paintbrushes, microfiber cloth sewn to a long string, even a ball of low tack painter’s tape on a stick) and drawing the interest and suggestions from several conservators in the lab, we were finally able to remove the spider with a long piece of Ethafoam attached to the end of a bamboo skewer.

The model is now pest-free!

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Comments (3)

  1. This is so interesting. I really enjoy these blogs.

  2. A truly engaging piece. Great story for both adults and children. Real potential for a short film.

  3. I love this story about this cool gal working my dream job!

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