The Colorful Chickens of the Carolinas
Welcome to the whimsical world of Tim and Karen Chambers
By KIM HENRY
This husband and wife team has been led all over the southeastern states by their kooky chicken creations, running their own booth at arts and crafts fairs. Completely unique and bound to make you smile, Those Kooky Chickens have been going for at least twenty-five years and show little sign of slowing down any time soon.
Raised in Highlands, North Carolina, Tim and Karen Chambers have a heart-warming back-story. “There were seventeen kids in Tim’s class and around twenty-four in mine,” smiles Karen, “it’s a small place and everyone knew everyone!” Although they were friends all through high school, the Chambers didn’t actually begin dating until two years after graduation. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The making of Those Kooky Chickens all began around thirty years ago, when a neighbor handed Karen a bag of old gourds and said she would probably be able to do something with them. Being young, innovative, and fairly broke, the Chambers turned the oddly shaped, dried out fruit into hand-painted chickens and gave them to family and friends for Christmas. Having grown up around these clucking animals, chickens just seemed to be an obvious choice. “Everyone loved them and soon friends of friends were asking for one, and we couldn’t make them fast enough!” remembers Karen.
Fast track a few years later when their son was around eight-years-old and Karen had to decide whether or not to ditch her day job and just focus on her loveable chickens. As a young mother, she knew she would value the flexibility that the life of an artist would give her, so she took the leap. “It was all or nothing, here we go!” recalls Karen, who has been dedicated to their quirky creations ever since.
But there’s much more to kooky chicken making than first meets the eye. The process begins by Karen choosing the shape and size of the dried-out gourd and ensuring that it has a solid, hard shell. Next comes cleaning, sanding and priming, and then it’s ready to be sculpted. Karen uses different kinds of clay to add the individual 3D details to each and every gourd. “Really, I just follow what the gourd wants to be. It’s mostly chickens because chickens make me happy,” explains Karen.
Then there’s more sanding and gluing, and even more sanding and gluing, before the chicken is ready to be passed over to Tim. Having always worked with wood, Tim makes the wooden legs and base so that the chickens can stand up. “Tim’s the leg man,’ laughs Karen, “there’s nothing worse than a wobbly gourd.”
Once the chicken is stable, it’s ready to be hand-painted, which is actually the fastest part of the process. After twenty-five plus years of selling their kooky chickens, the Chambers have produced literally thousands of them and every single one is completely unique in its size, shape, design, and color. The largest one they’ve ever made was an astonishing 6 feet high, but they tend to average at around 17 inches. “Every chicken has its own personality. I can sometimes match colors to someone’s particular taste, but the chicken comes alive as I begin to paint it and that’s the beauty of it,” says Karen.
The colorful creations can be found on the Chambers website, thosekookychickens.com. The couple had originally called their folk art ‘TKC’, which stood for Tim and Karen Chambers, but they soon decided that this name was not particularly memorable. Wanting to keep the same initials so that they didn’t have to change all the paperwork for their business, they needed a name that was consistent with the initials and so after a brainstorming road trip back from Florida, Those Kooky Chickens was born!
Neither of the Chambers have had any formal art education and seem to have been blessed with their artistic path just falling into place before them. Traveling for around 8 months of the year to a wide range of craft shows throughout the Carolinas and Georgia, the Chambers have never looked back. Often running the most colorful booth at any given show, Those Kooky Chickens stand out and are highly sought after. “It was never our plan to be full-time artists, it just kind of happened organically and we wouldn’t change a thing,” says Karen. And as theirkooky chicken fans – nor would we!