People and Places: Tracking Down the Chicken Man

Columbia (WACH)"You have likely seen them all around town, in houses, businesses, and restaurants. A Chicken Man painting is a must-have item for many in the Midlands.

It TMs distinctive oblong rectangle, depicting a chicken that looks a touch surprised, is a recognizable image around Columbia.

The Chicken Man, as he is known to many, is Ernest Lee, a native of Edgefield , South Carolina. Ernest Lee has been painting since he was about twelve years old, but the chickens didn TMt come along until an afternoon with a friend over coffee in Augusta. He and a friend were talking about chickens, and Ernest said the faithful words, Ain TMt no one going to buy a chicke. I really didn TMt want to paint a chicken.

So what did the future star of foul want to paint?

Anything but chickens, he said. Now that it TMs working, it TMs the best thing I done.

And with an estimated 15,000 chickens now around the Midlands it seems he made a good decision.

Ernest spends his days in an empty lot near Harden Street and Lady Street , in his Den, outfitted with lights and an air conditioner, painting his chickens, landscapes, pop artists, and taking requests for custom art.

I TMll paint whatever. A Gamecock chicken, a Clemson chicken, I TMll do whatever, he says.

Some of his non-bird works include Michael Jackson, family members, and even the President.

The Chicken Man studied art at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art in Alexandria, VA., and the Rose Hill Art Center in Aiken, and since arriving in Columbia around eleven years ago, he has become something of a celebrity.

I love the fact that he is so famous, says Scotty Lee, the future heir to the chicken empire.

During the summer months, Scotty joins his father in the Den, creating his own brand of chickens.

Chicken Man paintings have been seen in the State Museum in Columbia, and as far away as the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in Washington, DC. He has also appeared in Southern Living , and the subject of many newspaper articles and feature stories.

You can stop by and the Ernest The Chicken Man Lee most days on Harden Street, where you will be invited in, and given a tour of the various magazines and newspapers he has appeared in, his special crab series of paintings, and he will, in front of your eyes autograph your very own Chicken Man original.

(Story courtesy of Good Day Columbia contributor, Tyler Ryan .)