With your own two hands
When Sally began her senior design project, she could never have imagined the way that it would shape her life, her family, and her future. That’s how all meaningful things in life start, as something small and unexpected. Each student was tasked with designing a piece of furniture, and like everyone else, Sally came up with several ideas to present to her professor. “‘What would you think about a footstool shaped like a chicken?’ I said. And this moment was the crux of a huge part of my life. He could've said no right there and I would've started on a strawberry lampstand." Sally laughs. "But he didn't. Instead, we started sketching."
The frame took shape in wood, bronze, and wool, birthed from endless hours of sweat and imagination—mostly to keep it balanced. “It would have been smarter to do a four-legged animal,” Sally mused, “but instead, the feet kept getting bigger.” With the help of her father, she carved a wooden egg for the center. With the help of her professor and the local bronze foundry, she shaped large bronze feet. With the help of her mother, she began stitching wool into feathers.
After months of work, Henny and Penny emerged, two white chickens presented for her classmates. Even then, this could’ve been the end of it. But everyone loved the chickens. At the presentation, passersby pointed and laughed, caught off guard by the endearing, goofy look of a farm animal as furniture. Then came the question, "Do you think you could make a Rhode Island Red?"
Sally was off again, caught up in the joy of working with her hands and her love of chickens. Her parents say that it all started as a happy accident when they forgot to get Sally a birthday present on her 12th birthday. The farm down the road had a few chickens for sale…and there Sally’s love for chickens was born. Sally did indeed create a Rhode Island Red, and “chickening” (as she calls it) remained a part of her life in the background. Mostly, through family.
“Then I got married and moved from my small farm town to Kansas City. So, I had to decide if I was going to pursue a more traditional career. I decided chickening was my thing.” At so many points in her life, Sally could have turned away, but instead, she persevered into uncharted territory. In these small moments that become big life decisions, Sally imagined a life in which she could work with her hands every day, crafting chickens who become an iconic part of a home, of a family.
Others were drawn into this dream, too. At first, Sally called on a small group of design friends from college. On Tuesday evenings, they would gather to laugh and work together. The evenings were lovingly coined Tuesday Chicken Therapy—a brief respite from a week of digital work to once again draw near to materials, the work of your own two hands, and old friends. But demand soon outgrew what the small group of design friends could accomplish. Then, as strangers wandered into the studio to look at the chickens, they too were drawn in by the possibility of crafting something fresh and playful with their own two hands.
“At first, I was nervous to let anyone else try anything because I didn’t know how it would turn out. It can be so difficult to translate a vision in your head to tangible words. But today, we have a whole community of artisans who contribute to the chickens—it’s so much more than just me. And the beauty is that it all happened so organically. It is a joy to release control and watch how each individual creates a chicken with new personality and beauty that I could never have imagined."
“So many things go into the personality of the chicken, the way that the sheep is sheared, the way the wool is handled, the atmosphere of the studio, and the colors and patterns used. At the end, we name the chicken and then someone comes along and falls in love and adopts each one. I imagine that the chicken goes on to have adventures in their new home. From the farmer to the artist to the adopter, they have a very full life.”
Perhaps it is the soft, warm sound of Sally’s voice that draws people into the studio. Perhaps it is the absurdity of a chicken as a footstool that sparks incurable curiosity. Or perhaps, it is the way that the chicken mimics the perfectly unkempt quality of nature that makes us feel a little more at ease, allowing us to acknowledge the unkemptness of ourselves in such a way that we feel a little more at home.
These chickens make us laugh, they cause delight, and they make us feel like we—even at our most ridiculous—belong. Maybe, the dream isn’t just the imagining, but truly letting something that’s yours take flight and become something that’s ours.
Sally Linville grew up on a farm in Central Kansas where her father farmed the land and her mother carried out a career as an interior designer. As part of the 3rd generation of farmers, Sally was always inspired by the lovable quirks of chickens, leading her to design her now 10-year career creating Chicken Footstools as Creative Director of The City Girl Farm studio. Graduate of the KSU Interior Architecture and Product Design Masters program, Sally's work is enjoyed both locally and all around the world. Sally lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her husband and darling daughter.