Last year I committed to commissioning Jenny at The Pet Chicken Ranch to make an art doll of Ferguson, my most favorite chicken of all time. Jenny’s work is meticulously hand done, takes a lot of time, and is very popular, so I have been on a waiting list and my number’s coming up!
So that Jenny could know as much as possible about her, I rounded up all the old photos of her. Most were so faded they were not of much use. I set out to sketch her from my photos, and fill in the blanks with memory. The above sketch is mostly ink, (both fine tipped black pen and wide brush tipped markers), and some colored pencil. I was working on getting just the right colors. Also, I want the sketches I send Jenny to capture the hen’s perky, confident stance and character. While I’m not expecting an exact replica by any means, I want to provide all the data I can, as Fergie has long ago passed into the great pasture in the sky, so I can’t provide any new photos. It’s fun when some of Jenny’s customers show their pet chicken alongside the doll portrait! Jenny always captures the persona and look of the birds!
Back in the 70s and 80s, I had a tiny flock of fowl, all beloved and special, but as always there are favorites. I called her Fergie for short, but her whole name was Mrs. Ferguson, because when I first got her as an itty bitty newborn chick, she had a topknot and face that made her look just like an elementary school teacher I had by the same name.
Someone gave me Fergie. I hadn’t gone out to buy a chick. I was at a home where a girl my age was teaching me to ride horses, and this tiny chick ran by, alone. A man grabbed the chick and just gave it to me, saying it would likely not survive there anyway. I gleefully, accepted! Chickens from Heaven!
When I brought her by my parents urban house to show them, an aunt was visiting and proclaimed, “It’s gonna DIE!” Newborn Fergie was so tiny, and seemingly frail, but I’d had a penchant for bringing home runts as a kid, and they always seemed to grow into perfectly healthy animals. So I had faith in Fergie, and she did indeed live and grow into a beautiful and cocky little bantam silkie hen. I suspect she was only part silkie, but she mostly had silkie features. Black comb and skin, fur-like feathers, dark eyes and beek, feathered feet, and a crest like a little angora pom pom. She was a soft warm shade of off white plus quite a bit of fluffy charcoal gray. A few of her feathers weren’t quite all silkie, but they weren’t ‘hard’ like normal breeds, either. I figured somewhere in her lineage was some tiny bantam breed, maybe a spangled something or other by the markings some of her soft feathers bore. But mostly she was silkie.
Fergie was smart, and affectionate. Even if I’d had no previous experience with poultry to tell me they could be that way, she would’ve melted my heart. She loved attention, didn’t care a lot for other chickens, and would run to me to be scooped up, held and petted. She would sit in my lap and stretch out her neck to be petted, closing her eyes and trilling in contentment. She did make friends with my turkey, Dodo, possibly for the protection Dodo gave her from other chickens. Dodo seemed to enjoy Fergie’s company, too. Dodo and all of the birds were quite tame and affectionate. Fergie just seemed more so.
Though she wasn’t a layer breed she did lay eggs pretty often. They were tiny off white eggs. She was protective of them for a little while but never really got broody. I’m not sure Fergie really wanted more chickens, or even thought of herself as a chicken. In any case, the eggs weren’t fertile as I had no rooster. She once attacked a garden hose when I moved it near her nest box. She must have thought it was a snake. As tiny as she was, she could be fierce. She also liked to beat up my shoes, it was a favorite game.
Fergie lived about 10 years if I recall right. I think she might have lived longer had I known she had picked up a parasite. By the time the vet found out what it was, she was too old to survive being dewormed. He said if we didn’t put her to sleep she’d die a lingering and horrid death. Now, there are safer wormers for birds, but this was back in the early 80s and no doubt the vet wasn’t an avian specialist, something that’s more common nowadays. So, with much regret and sadness, I had to have Fergie put to sleep. As with other favorite pets, I don’t think I ever really get over their deaths. I’ve had and loved many animals in my more than half a century of living, but a few stick out and their memory never fades, and I still think “what if.” What if they were still with us?
When the doll is done, I’ll post a pic of it, and will probably post more about it on my Found a Chicken blog. I’ve been wanting to do a feature on Jenny, so that will be the perfect time to do so.
Jenny’s Pet Chicken Ranch:
My other blog:
Found A Chicken: https://foundachicken.wordpress.com/
And I have not forgotten my other art! Today I was pasting pages of an old cookbook to a panel, to get it ready to be background for an anti-factory farming piece. I’ve been researching possums for a commission, and sketching them in unnatural and imaginary situations. I’m taking a break from ceramics for the summer, so we can spend more evenings in the pool instead of in a classroom until it starts to cool down. But, I have a package of air dry clay, and a number of found objects and saved cardboard tubes, etc, in case I get the urge to sculpt. I even still have a few thrift store pieces that never got altered in time for my show in March, that I might still get to. My main goal for the summer though is to do the commission and get a start on the factory farm series. I hope that the series will be ready to show as a group somewhere in about a year.