This month, Jeremy Hobson talks to Katherine Barney, who produces hand-painted ceramics at her Norfolk workshop – surrounded by garden, family, dogs and chickens
Who, or what first got you interested in keeping chickens – and how long ago?
My friend Oliver kept chickens, which we always spoke about, but I just couldn’t decide whether chicken-keeping was for me. He took the decision out of my hands by leaving five of them on my doorstep one day – and that was 19 years ago!
What were the breeds?
We started with Pekin bantams and slowly added to our flock, but we have always had bantams of all sorts and colours, ranging from small to very small. I love bantams… I find their colours and markings beautiful and fascinating, but I also love the way they seem to love life. I love the way they sunbathe and join me in the garden when I’m weeding… they dust and scratch and chat away to one another and me as if their life depends upon it!
From looking at examples of your work (particularly your ceramics), it’s obvious that your chickens provide inspiration – what is it about them that does so?
My chickens are ideal subjects for my ceramics; they are quirky, beautiful in colour and form and their images can often be incorporated into designs that reflect my other great loves, namely flowers and my garden. These images on my vases, teapots, jugs and bowls continue to be a best-seller and I have met so many customers that are equally crazy about their chickens.
Who inspired you to become an artist?
I studied art at college and university and have an art-related degree… but… as a child I used to paint with my granny every weekend. She was really talented and took me to all sorts of country and coastal retreats with a flask of tea and Marmite sandwiches.
It’s well known that writers suffer from ‘writer’s block’ – is the same true of artists… and if so, do your chickens help unblock the block?
I don’t generally suffer from artists’ block but, if I do, then I paint a chicken or, if I just need a break, then sitting in the garden with a glass of wine and watching the chickens usually refreshes me. I often stare at them for ages when I should be working!
How do you fit your daily chicken routine in with your work and, bearing in mind recent scares with regard to bird flu, have you had to alter your routine/housing in any way?
Happily, my husband is the main chicken carer and he has just built a new large chicken house and enclosure, whereas previously their ‘free range’ was limitless. (They weren’t too happy about the changes, I must admit!)
Finally, what single piece of advice would you give anyone considering starting with chickens?
Try to get your chickens to lay their eggs where you want them to. It might seem to be a bit of marketing but, if you see ‘dummy’ eggs for sale at your local agricultural shop, take heed and buy some – placed in the nest box, they will definitely help young pullets understand exactly where they are supposed to lay. Without such support in the past we’ve found eggs inside the car’s spare wheel, on top of the compost heap and in more other places than you can imagine! Finally, it may sound obvious, but lots of cockerels may result in lots of chicks and most of them will be cockerels too. Talking of which, can you please give ‘Gerald’, the cock bird in the photo a mention… I know he’ll appreciate it!
Find out more about Katherine’s work at her website: www.katherinebarneyartist.co.uk
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