In late July, on the North Shore of Lake Superior, a professional photographer friend, Rolf, showed me his prints of chickens he had been hired to photograph. They were enchanting in various poses, with attitude and humor. With names like Walnut, Hi Tops, Peppercorn, Darth, and Cruella de Vil, they made me smile, laugh, and feel inspired to do what I have wanted to do for some time, paint a chicken.
I have been working on a series of paintings since early 2020 under the title “One World”. They bring me into the world with a broader lens of seeing what makes us one, interconnects us, and seeks that which is similar in our lives rather than opposing. It is inner work for me that seeks to find expression on canvas. Painting a chicken, however, is pure play and delight, loosing myself in a different way with a variety of connections.
The chicken I painted was one we met on the Island of Kauai. Many hens and roosters run wild there and on the Big Island of Hawaii. Then, I thought of the chicken I met in Waikoloa on the Big Island as I sat at a favorite outdoor café eating my breakfast and listening to an elderly native Hawaiian playing his guitar and singing Hawaiian songs. I was transported in those moments feeling the rhythm of the music and allowing the words to float through me, all with a smile as I watched a golden-brown chicken roaming nearby.
While painting, I thought of my grandma Regina who with her husband Adolph and 6 children bought and moved to a farm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After the sudden death of Adolph to heart attack, Regina and the six children needed to survive. Grandma had her chickens. It had been a barely break-even farm except for the chickens. The three oldest went off to War sending grandma money to help support her and the three youngest but it was the chickens that kept them going for many years until the youngest left and she moved into town. She loved her chickens, and they were an integral part of her life.
I recently learned of and visited a fundraiser for the farm of a young family who have dedicated themselves to the rescue and healing of abandoned roosters. They along with many other of that generation are dedicated to all animals and their humane treatment. They represent our future of treating all in this world with respect and care. As foreign as the concept of a rescue for roosters, I could not help admiring their dedication and finding their way of bringing healing into the world.
A neighbor about a half mile down our road decided to raise chickens in his yard. I would chuckle on my morning walk as I passed his house with the rooster cock a doodle doo-ing and the owner coming out for work shushing and scolding them for making so much noise and admonishing them to stay in their fenced area and be good.
Yesterday, as I sat in my stylist’s chair, she told me her mother decided to buy 50 chickens and a few turkeys. My stylist has been the main caretaker for this brood. She offered that she was very attached to the roosters. One of the roosters found where she lives on the larger property and comes every morning to her door with a wakeup call. She had heard that turkeys could be a bit mean so she raised them by sitting with them, talking to them, holding, and petting them. They are now attached to her.
We get our eggs from an Amish family who live north of us and who deliver them to our local coop. We support them in our purchase and hope they can continue in their humane care of their chickens and the sharing of the brown eggs with a rich golden yoke
For some the chicken has meant survival, others health, and for another healing. For some the chicken represents our inhumane treatment of all animals as we eat them and their eggs. But within our differences, in these days of world turmoil, the chicken brings us back to this moment, the earth, the place where we connect and ground ourselves. For Regina, taking to her bed for three days after the loss of Adolph, the care of her kids and her chickens woke her up to this moment and the chickens kept her going, one moment after one moment. As I continue to explore “one world”, I find that the chicken is never outside of that circle. I think there are a few more chicken paintings in my future.