Sculptor Small Carter has loved chickens since childhood. She tells Jeremy Hobson about her poultry passion and her (mainly) wooden artworks
Sculptor Small Carter
How did you become interested in the idea of chicken keeping and what birds do you have now? It was my parents who sparked my love of chicken keeping. They kept chickens when I was growing up. We had a cockerel called Siegfried and a selection of hens. They were very free range and there was always a succession of chicks on the go.
When my husband, Deej, and I moved into this house 15 years ago we acquired two young chicks and called them Jill and Richard after our friends who gave them to us. Jill was wonderful and lived for many years and raised lots of chicks. Richard was slightly less pleasant and took his role of protecting his ladies very seriously. (Eventually we donated him to some friends who were looking for a cockerel to guard their hens).
After them we kept Dorkings, Marans and Light Sussex, a few bantams and some Warrens. We tried rearing some table birds once which, although it worked quite well, I think is best left to the experts. When it came to it, neither of us wanted to do the deed.
Our latest ladies are rescue hens who came from the British Hen Welfare Trust. They arrived very shy and a bit unloved, but have now blossomed into five full feathered busybodies.
What is it about chickens that you love so much? They are so incredibly cheerful. Even when they are squabbling over a delicious treat they still seem to be having a wonderful time. They are constantly interested in whatever I’m doing. Even though they are free range during the day, they tend to hang around my workshop most of the time, poking their beaks around the corner trying to see what I’m up to. They are busy and curious and seem to genuinely love people. I think we could all do with a bit of chicken perspective.
Your sculptures are quite unique. How would you describe them? They are basically wooden sculptures created from reclaimed and found materials. Although I did art at college for A level, my woodwork is self-taught (with a lot of help from Deej who also works with wood). It was finding a beautiful piece of wood which first gave me the idea of adding tiny sculptures. They have a look of driftwood, but are mostly old oak branches. I love to discover a really beautiful one. My only requirement is that each piece has to be lovely enough to have on the wall on its own. They take on their own direction. I love to see how they develop; the fluid form of the branches lend themselves to a seascape, but mountains and woodlands are also a theme. They vary in length: some are only about 50cm, but others go up to over 1m.
Have you ever created a sculpture that includes one of more of your chickens as models? I haven’t ever used a chicken as a model, but it’s a good idea. Texture may be a problem, but I did some penguins the other day made from concrete and wire-wool which were quite effective. Perhaps I could do a mother hen and her chicks walking along a branch.
To return to chicken keeping, what do you know now that you wish you had known at the outset? That a broody hen is determined; if she really wants to escape she will, no matter how clever you think you have been in trying to keep her in.
Small’s work can be seen on her website: www.smalldesigns.co.uk; email: smallde[email protected]mail.com.
Small uses mainly old oak branches in her sculpting INSET: Over the years, Small has kept Dorkings, Marans and Light Sussex, a few bantams and some Warrens