Local artist, “The Chicken Man” thankful for his Columbia fans

One of Lee’s chicken paintings. Karamie Sullivan photos.

Most artists choose to create their work with originality and flare to stand out against others. One Columbia man has been doing just that since 1979, and has acquired quite a name for himself in the process.

Ernest Lee, better known by most as “the chicken man,” has painted thousands of chickens over his years. He sells his work from a trailer he pulls around town, and sets up frequently on Gervais Street, and Huger Street, among other locations. Lee said even though he never knows exactly how much he’ll sell in a day, it’s what he’s always wanted to do.

“When I was five, I started drawing. And I told my mom if there was anything in the world I wanted to be, I wanted to be an artist,” he said. “I just picked up the pencil and kept playing with it.” When he got older, Lee began painting the interior and exterior of houses, until someone suggested he start doing “something he could call his own.”

At first, Lee said he was hesitant to the idea of painting chickens. “Then I said, I ain’t got nothing to lose, I’ve got everything to gain.”

He finally tried it because he said he used to have a bantam chicken of his own. He started painting them on long, thin boards. His work really began selling when he started personalizing each chicken differently, according to Lee.

“When I started doing the girl chickens with the boobs and the butt, boy them things took off,” he added. Lee said people began giving him suggestions for different accessories to add. “Someone said I should do some high heels on the chickens so I started doing that, and afro chickens, and all kinds of stuff.” He began with about 50 chicken paintings, then expanded to around 400.

Lee drives to Myrtle Beach, Greenville, and other areas to sell his paintings. However, he said Columbia has been the best. “This is where I’ve built up all my fans,” he said. Two customers who visited Lee Wednesday afternoon bought four of his pieces and asked him to personalize it with “USC” and “go Cocks.” Lee said it’s frequent that Gamecock fans enjoy his paintings. “The college students and the parents really like them,” he said.

The chicken man said he’s seen his paintings around South Carolina quite frequently. “Somebody even said there’s some up in New York,” he added.

There’s no sign that Lee will be stopping any time soon. He said he’s created art now for about 51 years and still enjoys his work. “You gotta love it, you gotta love what you do.”

Lee can often be found in the 2200 block of Gervais Street on the week days selling his pieces. He has a wide assortment including other non-chicken paintings, and can create custom paintings too, by request.

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