Julie Stunden is a Pittsburgh-based, multi-media artist who operates Stunden Studios out of the Mine Safety building in the East End. She teaches middle school woodworking at the Waldorf School and project based high school Art History at Pittsburgh CAPA. Stunden also maintains an urban organic garden and has a certification in biodynamic gardening. She plays old time, mountain, claw-hammer banjo, writes music and is a novice square dance caller.
Stunden’s current art work is directly tied to her immediate contextual experience. As of May 2020 She is a Pandemic Chicken Owner. She is currently painting and selling chicken and egg oil paintings. She is painting her own chickens and eggs and taking new commissions for chicken portraits for other chicken lovers.
All Cooped Up: Put A Chicken In It 7/22/21
During 2020-2021 Global Pandemic, life has been flipped upside down. Trust of our fellow humans is at an all time low. Everyone was turning inward, reaching for mechanisms to cope with anxiety and fear and death by suffocation.
“Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, were vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens planted at private residences and public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany during World War I and World War II. In wartime, governments encouraged people to plant victory gardens not only to supplement their rations but also to boost morale They were used along with Rationing Stamps and Cards to reduce pressure on the public food supply. Besides indirectly aiding the war effort, these gardens were also considered a civil "morale booster" in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. This made victory gardens a part of daily life on the home front.
The Pandemic Chicken Craze became my Victory Garden strategy for coping. I jumped in with both feet, full gravity and soul, accidentally.
It began with a friend asking if I would foster chickens for her start-up Rent-A-Chicken business.
I thought it would just be 3 or 4 and it turned out to be 11 peeps in a shoebox. The cardboard mansion on our dining room table grew immense as peeps grew. A mother and son Coop building project consumed our first pandemic summer lock down. Arriving to be the size of a 4’x10’ corrugated metal roofed coop, sliding and hinged doors, with a 10’x10’ predator proofed roof attached. It has enough room for 30 chickens.
Two shimmery, amber, Wyondotte roosters, Percy and Ipe, had to go when they started crowing, so 11 became 9. Frida, the feather footed Cochin, died mysteriously, so now we are holding steady at 8 chickens, Janis, Billie, Diva, Delores, Calamity, Dolly, Oakley and Wynona.
I couldn’t resist reveling in how the light danced off and illuminated the facets of the chicken feathers, and glowed through their brilliant red Wattles and combs, such strange, heat-filtering appendages. Their dinosaur lineage continued to seep through with every movement and head twitch, mysterious, quirky, beautiful and endearing. Hundreds of photos ensued, traversing every season and scape, built and organic.
Personalities revealed themselves little by little; who was friendly, who was greedy, who was evasive, who was neurotic, who was clumsy, who needed help onto the nightly roost, who was the guardian, who was curious, who was the affectionate lap sitter, who was an escape artist, who was first and last into the coop at night, who stood over the egg layers as lookout, who pecked you when you tried to collect eggs, who was the broody mama that wouldn’t leave the eggs UNTIL you collected them, who squawked MADLY before during and after an egg lay?
The EGGS, they came. Just a few at first, then 8 a day like clock work even through the winter, one per chicken. Pale dusty blue, flesh pink, golden honey brown and rich cocoa brown. They felt heavier than grocery eggs and toasty warm at collection time. Eggs seasoned with oatmeal and bacon fat from winter meals. The light danced across their curves in the kitchen light, in their paper carton and their custom carved Egg Bus. This was more than we could eat so the gifting of eggs began. I am told by most, that they are the best eggs they have ever eaten.
As an Artist and painter, I asked myself: What am I to do now?
I answered myself firmly: Paint, and then, paint some more.