Nothing says you’ve arrived like a GIANT METAL SPIDER
Wouldn’t want to be a fly on that wall.
Not with that arachnid dangling right alongside. See it? It’s just about to pounce on that plump crossover.
This is Morgan Hill, California, a booming ‘burb in the southern reaches of the San Francisco Bay Area. It seems to be managing its growth pretty well (the spiders are sure filling out). Only a few decades ago it was a sleepy satellite of big San Jose to the north. Horse country. Drowsy businesses off the freeway. The kind of town you’d visit in the fall for pumpkin patches and corn mazes.
Now Morgan Hill is adding not only new and sometimes palatial houses (they still have the horses) but also restaurants and shops. And it’s wielding the D-word heard in every aspiring community: downtown. Twenty-five years in the area, and I didn’t know Morgan Hill even had a downtown. Where there’s downtown, there has to be parking. And where there’s parking there’s . . . this giant spider.
The city is about to christen a new downtown garage adorned with the sculpture shown here. It’s in homage to the lovelorn tarantulas that stroll the golden hills outside Morgan Hill in the fall. My kind of town!
The spiders honored by this artwork make themselves known in October and November as the males wander in search of a mate. Nearby Henry Coe State Park has its annual Tarantula Festival in which kids and adults buddy up to the leggy, shaggy California tarantulas that would give up all that fame and fortune and commissioned artwork if they could only find a partner. Then, of course, they die.
The Morgan Hill Times reported “impassioned discussion” about the proposed sculpture, the work of Napa artist Gordon Huether. The artist will also put a less intimidating sculpture honoring a native stone, poppy jasper, on the opposite flank of the garage.
One resident launched a petition to squash the spider, but had no beef with the jasper. “My children will be frightened and therefore we won’t be coming downtown,” wrote a signer.
Another wrote, “I do not feel that the spider sculpture reflects what Morgan Hill is all about.” To be fair, the artist probably couldn’t figure out a way to sculpt a giant, metal property-tax bill. The petition fizzled out.
Morgan Hill Life, another local paper, urged town stalwarts to take a stand for “daring works of public art” like the spider. The artist, for his part, maintains that the spider art was meant to be “whimsical and cheerful,” and he believes the naysayers will eventually come around.
I’m not sure. Arachnophobes tend to be an irrational and impulsive lot.
“Red Tarantula was inspired by the tarantulas that visit Morgan Hill every October,” Huether confirms on his website. “The installation is composed of hundreds of vintage headlights for the spider’s body and is adjoined by eight vibrant red powder coated steel outstretched legs spanning the wall. Red Tarantula is not only a humorous addition to the parking structure, but is a witty response to Poppy Jasper on the façade.”
The $200,000 metal spider is chunky and shiny. The original design, it must be noted, didn’t look like a tarantula at all. It was more svelte and curvy, reminiscent of a widow or other cobweb spider. The local tarantulas, like all such, are more like plus-size models: big and beautiful. But Huether shows they can wear the sparkles too.
Morgan Hill has vineyards, so surely it has black widows too. If you’re gonna alarm arachnophobic shoppers, why not go all the way?
Huether could have festooned his design with a giant bunch of grapes, tapping into the perennial hysteria about black widows among the produce. Or maybe a banana, a nod to the hysterical Brits and their banana splits. A few months ago it appears someone was actually bitten by a refrigerated widow trying to escape its plastic prison. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a spider in the grapes biting anyone. The victim was in pain for a while and then the doctors sent her home, much as if she’d stepped on a rusty nail. But all bets are off when the reporters find out.
Hurrah for Morgan Hill and its civic daring! Mass tarantella dancing to follow. That’ll bring them downtown.