A Bit Different When Art Meets Chickens

When Art Meets Chickens 3: Tattoos

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t know what a tattoo was. Even if they hadn’t seen one in person, they’d be aware of their existence from depictions or mentions in art, literature and popular culture, and even The Bible.

The word tattoo comes from the Samoan ‘tatau’, meaning to strike, or the tapping sound of the tools used during tattooing. To create tattoos, Polynesians used turtle shells and boar’s teeth to tap the dark pigment into the skin. Nowadays, manual tools have largely been replaced by handheld electric ‘guns’ which are used to insert the ink, dyes, and/or pigments into the dermis layer of the skin to form a design.

Various forms of body modification – tattooing, scarification, piecing, branding – are found across the globe. Tattoos have been found on mummified remains and in art dating back more than 5000 years. In tribal societies they might represent rites of passage, marital or social status, familial affiliation, or personal attributes.

When I was growing up they were very much an indicator of class: inked art was relegated to men (and definitely not women) in the military, prisoners and blue collar Joes. The exception to that were Jewish survivors of the holocaust displaying prominent numbers on their forearms. Other non-voluntary victims of tattooing have included fugitive slaves and law breakers.

In 2022 they are pretty ubiquitous. In fact, if you’re sporting a tat you’re part of the legions who share your interest. Italians are purported to be the most tattooed nation in the world, with 48% of adults having at least one, then closely followed by Sweden, the USA, Australia and Argentina. My country, Canada, didn’t make the top 10, with only 22% of us having one. I have to wonder how stats are collected on such things, so I don’t put much credence in them, but they do indicate the widespread uptake of the art.

They are so popular these days you might be seen as uncool if you don’t have one. In some circles they are expected, in fact, you’d be in the minority if you didn’t have one. The contestant application form for the television reality show Survivor includes a question about tattoos and body piercings, assuming those are seen as desirable features in a participant. Gone are the days where you had a small, discrete tattoo and were expected to hide it when in public.

In Western countries contemporary tattoos are an expression of popular culture which draw on motifs from our own lives as well as incorporating symbols from other cultures (e.g. words in foreign languages, tribal designs, Japanese style imagery, etc).

Tattoos may be skin deep, but their significance often goes deeper. The messages sent by body art are an individual’s self-expression, but there are recurring themes that can often tell you something about the wearer: purely decorative; symbolic (with a specific meaning for the wearer); and pictorial (images of a specific person or thing).

Although they may no longer signify traditional rites of passage, tattoos are often obtained at times of change (i.e. relationship break up or death of a loved one). I got my first tattoo in 1988 after a break up and then another a decade later, not coincidentally after the end of another relationship. I’ve been with my current partner for 24 years so if I want another tattoo I’d better not hold my breath waiting to be single again. Actually, getting another one is on my bucket list. It was a pre-Covid idea which I haven’t gotten around to, but probably will take the plunge when I find the right image.

A tattoo is as close to permanent as it gets, and I think that’s part of their appeal. When you lose someone of importance the tattoo is a visual reminder of them, or a link to a particular time in your life. They can also be celebratory like commemorating the birth of a child, or other significant event.

I often see folks sharing their inked artwork in online chicken groups. I reached out to my followers and asked if they would show off their chicken tats and if possible, give some backstory. Here they are for you to enjoy and get inspiration from:

Alyssa Berube: The first chick I ever fell in love with turned out to be a boy, his name was Lemon. He cuddled me and was so wonderful. Sadly, we could not keep roosters in our town and I had to give him away. This is my memorial tattoo for him.

Shanna Lee: I wanted a chicken tattoo because I love chickens but I also wanted it to show my personality so I chose my favorite chicken holding a Starbucks coffee. I had to add the pink bow because obviously bows just make Silkies cuter.

Cassie Kelly: My step-sister and I really just love our chickens and our children. We wanted to get something matching with each other that signified our love for both.

Ty Ibbitson: My 5 year old daughter and I have an obsession with Hei Hei from Moana and love raising our chickens

Patty Schneider Graeber: I just have a thing for chickens and roosters and when I saw this watercolor I fell in love.

Katyana Bender: Got my boy, Lucky, on my arm. He got his name by almost dying, twice (and me learning very quickly how to care for chickens).

Daniela Becker: I’ve talked/joked for years about getting a chicken tattoo. I planned on turning my left arm into a mostly floral sleeve. When we were in Maui my cousins and I all got tattoos with a plumeria then customized whatever else we wanted. I did my son’s and my birth flower with the plumeria. At the last minute I asked the tattooist if he could throw a chicken in it and I loved the idea of Hei Hei as we were in Hawaii. I smile every time I look down at my arm.

Melissa Bays: My first tattoo: a mother’s day gift from my oldest daughter.

Angie Knannlein-Rahman: I am a Covid ICU charge nurse. I rescued my first chicken at the beginning of the pandemic, then got six more. I sat in my coop and cried to my chickens many times after work. I felt like they helped keep me sane for the last two years.

Bryce Pope: My husband and I moved into our house in 2019 and the people who lived there before us had a bunch of animals. They ended up having to leave a rooster behind because they couldn’t catch him. We quickly grew attached and that’s what started our chicken addiction. We now have almost 50 chickens. That one rooster coincided with the beginning of our marriage and life together. The tattoo not only represents our chickens, but our marriage.

Heather Fairley: My girl, May, done in traditional style. She was caught by a Great Dane and had her leg broken. We splinted and wrapped it and she lived for about another year after that. Maybe you can see her wrapped leg in the tattoo?

Lori Marie Biles: I got my chicken tattoo on my ankle last summer. We were supposed to close on our new house July 18th and it got pushed back. It was a Friday night: I was living with my in-laws with my husband, 17 chickens and two children; we were driving 1½ hours two or three times a week for baseball practice, appointments, and to check on things with the new house. I woke up Saturday morning, looked at my brother-in-law and said, “Wanna go get a tattoo with me?” So he got a rose on his arm and I got my momma chicken with her two babies.

Madelyn Frieden: It was only right I got a tattoo for my rescue hen, Lucy. She’s the absolute best and I love her so much. Her “legal name”, as I call it, is Luce Skybawker, so it was fitting she got a lightsaber.

Melani Spencer: My daughter and I got matching Silkie tattoos for her 19th birthday last month. We got our first Silkie hen, Silkie Sue, over two years ago. She was stepped on by a horse last year resulting in one leg being amputated. A year later, she is still going strong; so when my daughter said she wanted a matching tattoo I couldn’t think of a better one than her.

Braelyn Funk: My chicken thigh: I’ve always wanted chickens since I could remember, so when I was 15 and my mom let me get twenty I was ecstatic. It’s just progressed from there. Seven years later, with some of my original girls plus 99+ others I started my first breeding programs. When I decided to go for my first big colour piece I just knew it had to be a chicken. This was custom designed by Rose Medos at Gold Tooth Grin Studios

Jennifer Gimble: My love of chickens and my humour all in one.

Thanks to everyone who showed off their ink and their love of chickens. Featured photo: Leg Tattoo, Next Luxury

If you’ve got a chicken tattoo (and story) that you’d like to share feel free to drop me a line via the ‘contact’ button on the home page and I’ll add them.

2 comments on “When Art Meets Chickens 3: Tattoos

  1. lindawilk

    Absolutely love this column! Hadn’t thought about it til now, but I have a wolf and horse on one leg to represent my kids, now I have to have a dog and chicken on the other for my husband and me!! Thanks for the great pics of all your beautiful art folks, and for writing it here!!

    Liked by 1 person

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