Friday, June 18, 2010

Navajo Chickens

My first encounter with a Navajo Chicken was back in 1999 when Gil and I took a trip out to Arizona to visit the Petrified Forest and Canyon de Chelly.

En route, we stopped at the Hubbell Trading Post, a National Historic Site that's the oldest still operating trading post within the Navajo Nation. It was purchased by a John Lorenzo Hubbell back in 1878, and the Hubbell family ran the place until 1967 when they sold it to the National Park Service. A cool place that emoted tons of historical old west character, and I was especially drawn by a back room that housed an amazing plethora of Navajo rugs (along with a crowd of aficionados from LA and other metro burgs). OMG. I had never been so enchanted and captivated by the beauty and simplicity of a woolly creation. BUT, my hopes were dashed when I realized that these amazing works of home-spun art were commanding prices in the thousands of dollars. The cheapest piece was $200, but it was literally the size of a place mat. I've always wondered if you could get a better deal if you went straight to the source.

11/12/99 Hubbell Trading Post, Ganado, Apache County, NE Arizona

11/12/99 Hubbell Trading Post.

So that's where the chickens come into play. On the counter in the front entry were a couple of fun wooden sculptures. A cute little sheep, covered with natural sheep wool, and a chicken, painted in subtle purple & red, with a raffia or hay tail. At $30, the chicken was a no-brainer purchase (compared to much heftier priced Navajo rugs). Since then I've been stuck on cluck and enamored of all things chicken. 

Purchased from Hubbell Trading Post 11/12/99. By Edith & Guy John, Navajos from Sweetwater, AZ.

Bought this one online, and it's signed 'L. Herb'. Maybe a Lulu Herbert creation?

Signed 'J J, 5-2000' 

Signed 'Lawrence H.'

Signed 'DT', purchased from Death Valley National Park Visitor Center. 

These Chickens are inimitable creations in the Navajo folk art tradition. Here's an apt recant of their origins from

"A discussion about Navajo folk art would be incomplete without mentioning chickens . . . those crazy chickens! The Herbert family has been largely responsible for an unimaginable menagerie of animals. The father, Woody Herbert, started carving Brahma bulls, ravens and horses in the mid-1980s. His legacy is carried on by his talented children, their husbands, wives and children. Wilford and Lulu Herbert Yazzie are probably best known for their chickens and ravens. Edith Herbert John's work is best recognized in her chickens, owls and pigs. Their brother, Leslie, has demonstrated the greatest variety, carving everything from turkeys to skunks to large coyote families.
Many more artists exist in this movement and our pleasure is watching the constant and rapid innovation in the Navajo folk art. As with other forms of Native American art, it brings great pleasure to the owner. Perhaps its best contribution is the laughter and smiles it inspires while it pushes you to look deeper into the Navajo viewpoint."

And then my poultry obsession just expanded from there. 

Ceramic chickens on my kitchen counter. From Lowe's, of all places.

A psychedelic hen from Cost Plus.

A pensive hen from Cost Plus.

An 'ironite', 'Hulga' hen I purchased from a sadly going out of biz shoppe in Murrieta.

Brass-plated roosters. A gift from Hank Alain (RIP) & his wife Lucy to my parents back when they were all still living in Taiwan. Probably dates back to the early 90s. Part of a set depicting the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac.

A homecoming gift from my mom & dad when we first moved to our new home in June of 2006.

A bootiful metallic rooster on our kitchen counter, from Armstrong Nursery in Temecula. 

Now, I want the real thing - i.e., real hens in a real chicken coop. I'm inspired by the poultry postings of Clare (Curbstone Valley Farm )/, Rosie (,  and Noelle ( ). 


  1. Hey, a Fowl Friday post! Thanks for the link Camissonia! We actually don't have much chicken art in the house. I'm afraid it will start a collection I can't stop :P I love your first five folkart chickens...especially JJ. That metallic rooster on your counter is super cute too. Do you think you'll get any real chickens soon?

  2. Well, considering how long it takes to make one of those rugs, they are actually quite a bargain. But I might have gone for the chicken instead myself...

  3. Wow, those Navajo Chickens are super-awesome! :D

    I have only one chicken, and it's my Chicken in Boots. From Lowe's lol. But I love it!

  4. Hi Clare - Fowl Friday, indeed! I do plan on getting real chickens, especially after reading your posts on the adventures (or misadventures) of Frodo & the girls. We would like to build our own coop, but first need to do some research on "building plans." Next question would be, what kind of chickens should we start with? There seem to be so, so many to choose from. That's why your chicken posts are so great, because I get to see some really cool & beautiful varieties, along with neat ideas for chicken coop construction. Nothing beats the taste (and color) of freshly laid eggs!

  5. Town Mouse, you're right. The rugs are real works of art and well worth the high prices they command. I'd still like to buy a Navajo rug one of these days, but in order not to break the bank or give my husband a coronary, the next time we venture out to AZ, we'll probably seek out the weavers and buy from them directly. Case in point, we took a 4WD tour of Canyon de Chelly with a Navajo guide back in '99 and she took us to a stop at the bottom of the canyon where some local Navajo artisans were selling their wares (pottery, turquoise & silver jewelry, etc.). Some of the really rustic hand-made pottery was going for only $10 apiece! I'll bet if the same items were being sold in a gallery or gift shop in Phoenix or Scottsdale, the price tag would be ten times that. The chickens are still my fav, though.

  6. Hey Kyna, I think I've seen your Chicken in Boots at our Lowe's! They actually have some fun garden art/sculptures, many with a Southwestern theme, including coyotes, Kocopelli, horses, chili peppers, cacti, and of course, "Chicken in Boots"! (heh, heh)

  7. wow you sure have some collection. I have one in the kitchen a Russ Berrie one which has a hand painted scene on its body.

    As for chickens I write about they are my friends ones - she had a broody hen which refused to lay any more eggs so she got eggs of ebay which have now hatched and she's got another one sitting on 12 eggs just now. She hopes they are not all roosters as she can't have roosters where she lives or the neighbours will not be happy plus she likes her morning lie ins.

    copy this code into your browser and you'll see a picture I took last week of them

  8. Ha! Just absolutely loved the photos of the hens & hatchlings, Rosie! And those adorable chicks have furry legs - kind of a la Clydesdale horses...The colors on the dark-feathered hen on the lower right are just beautiful. Is she perchance the brooding one? What kind of chicken is she?

  9. Dear camissonia, your collection of chicken is really cute (but look at my new post on Harry Potter and The Elephant House - collectors are in danger, because everybody is happy to add to their collection). Real chicken might be fun - but read Betty MacDonald's "The Egg and I" first!

  10. Dear Britta, you are spot on! One invariably leads to a multitude in the oddball world of collectors. Real chickens are enticing but I admit I won't commit until I feel I have the requisite time to devote to their care.