Dream House for Chickens at Hill Center’s Young Artist Gallery

Group presentation.

For the past two years, Teachers at School Within School @Goding have rented chickens and a coop that must be returned at the end of the season. This past spring, art teacher Marla McLean and FoodPrints teacher Margi Fineran had an idea for something more permanent – chicks hatched in classroom incubators and a chicken coop designed by the kindergarten class and constructed by fifth-grade students. The kids were eager for the challenge of working together to create something that would not be “theirs” to take home but “ours” to share as a community.

The kindergarteners were asked to consider: What do you think chickens need? What do you think they want?

The kids had questions of their own: How do chickens sleep? What do chickens do if they go to the bathroom in their bed? Can chickens make music? What do chickens do when they wake up? What kind of toys do they like? Do chickens go to meetings?

As luck would have it, one of the fifth-grade teachers at SWS, Erika Bowman, used to raise chickens and could answer these and other posers.

With the chicken’s requirements established, work commenced on exterior designs in sharpie and tempera paint on canvas paper. Each kindergarten child was asked to focus on one room of the coop, figure out all the details, and make it as delightful as possible from an avian point of view. These pen and colored-pencil drawings with transcribed text are quite revealing of their creators’ thought processes:

  • “This is the bedroom and I drawed some windows and when they sleep they get scared so I did some windows so they can see what’s happening.” Leila
  • “The chickens need a play area. There’s ribbons and hula hoops, and slides and balls. There’s a mini stage, you can pretend it’s a house. The music place … They can do the chicken dance!! There’s also a table with some food and water so if they’re sweating from dancing.” Michela
  • “This is the room where the eggs are, it’s a box that has some lights all around it. The lights light up fast and turn off fast so the baby won’t die. Under the chicken room there’s a floor with a light that’s really hot, but there’s bricks to cover it, so the chickens survive. It makes the floor warm.” Oskar

At this point the fifth-graders joined the project, each assigned to a team of five-year-olds. The drawings, designs, and notes will be passed to them, and they will be charged with executing the plans developed by their younger colleagues. It won’t be easy; it never is, to bring a fantasy into reality.

The “Dream Houses” show is on display in the ground floor gallery at Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, through the end of December. The installation includes a mural of chicken portraits, exterior design concepts for the coops in mixed media, and floor plans in pen and colored pencil. McLean invites you to come see the show and to follow up with a visit to the school next year, after the coop is installed. Her parting thought: “Working collectively on building a dream is always a good thing, even when it is for chickens.”

Chicken portraits.
Interclass collaboration.