The Tale of the Chicken

This story started in the dance studio with Litz Pisk. We came in one morning, me, enthusiastically, the men half heartedly, only to find a chicken running around squawking and shitting. ‘Now dahlings, I want you to sit and observe, don’t draw yet.’ We sat at drawing donkeys watching the chicken (at first agitated, fluttering and flying up to the rafters, then calming down,) for about ten minutes. There were barely suppressed giggles as it landed on someones head. ‘Now I want you to leave the donkey move into the space and show me you can move like a chicken’, (eat your heart out Stanislavski!). Everybody did their best, most with embarassment. ‘Now sit down and draw.’ I was amazed looking through my papers lately, to find that I still had the drawings. Anyone who has drawn on butchers paper or newsprint knows how yellow it goes in time.

The next day in another drawing session we were presented with a chicken carcass (see below) and a chicken skeleton (that drawing is missing.) At the end of the session we were given an assignment to go away and come back in a weeks time with a sculpture of a chicken made from unusual materials! That night we were given invitations to go to a posh candle lit meal….of chicken….this is perfectly true….it was a luxury then the sort of meal you only had at Christmas. We didn’t get much because there were about fifteen of us.

The week before I had been on a drawing expedition to Bristol docks ( I think it was with Bryan Winter.) I came across a shop I absolutely loved, a ship’s chandlers. They gave me permission to draw in there. I liked the tarry smell of the rope.

Idea! I’ll use rope and string. I hitch hiked back to Bristol with a friend, it was the only way we could get around, we couldn’t afford transport. ASIDE Later I even hitch hiked to Bushey for my job interview at the public school. It was an early morning milk tanker, I asked the driver to drop me well away from the gates!

I bought some rope with money I had saved from my Sunday job in the kitchens. The owner was intrigued when he heard what I was going to do and he gave me some extra string and twine, a sail needle and a special shield you put on your palm to stop the needle penetrating your skin. I looked at books on basketry and knots. It was a basketry technique that I used in the end, with Turks head knots for the comb and knotted and splayed out rope for the tail, it was about 3ft 6ins tall- I put wire reinforcement in the legs.It looked pretty good.

At Corsham Court there was a rather beautiful barn that had been modernised inside to make a large white studio and exhibition area. There came the day when we should take our pieces and display them ready for the crit. the next morning. The first problem was how to get it there, I couldn’t carry it on my bike. Our hostel was about three miles away and I carried it on foot, it was a struggle but I was determined. I set it up in the studio and looked around at other peoples efforts. There were ones made of straw, wire, cardboard, stuffed fabric, reeds from the lake etc. I felt flushed with glory because mine was bigger and I thought better. I went back to the hostel feeling mighty pleased with myself and looking forward to the morning, it had been worth all the hard work and sore hands.

When I went into the barn the next morning I was totally dismayed it had collapsed into just a heap of rope with a few knots, lying around the legs. Pride comes before a fall comes to mind. If it had been nowadays I could have said it was conceptual ‘a once was a ckicken’ heap. However part of the moral of this story was that I wasn’t discouraged from using rope and string and the construction techniques that I had learned. I have made a lot of work since then using the same materials, so though it didn’t seem it at the time it was worth while.




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