Still Clucking Crazy After all These Years

by Insiders Dunedin

There’s something comforting about Happy Hens. Plump and a little bit silly, with a bird in the hand you can’t help but feel a sense of joy at the quirkiness. Shaped like curling stones made for the world’s most flamboyant bonspiel, even though they feel delicate, actually, they’re quite robust (not that you’d want to throw them: everyone knows throwing chickens is dangerous).

An art teacher for many years, Happy Hens founder Yvonne Sutherland’s creative impulses found the perfect synergy in a poultry idea hatched 32 years ago. Begun as tributes to the heritage breeds that came out with the settlers, traditional Old English birds with marvellous plumage: Norfolk, Sussex, Plymouth Rock, Wyandotte; attracted by the patterns, “it didn’t start off as a business,” she says. “I just went to a local market with a few and it took off.” So much so, Happy Hens have become a Dunedin icon, and the former peninsula county council workshop at Portobello where the hens are decorated − its lemon walls hung with carousel horses and bunting, glorious with colour right down to the cobbled floor, like a gypsy house boat only needing a burst of accordion music to sail away – a real destination: “we have tourists come down the country who say, ‘we’ve been chasing these hens!’” On a paint-splattered table freshly-laid hens await feathers and final details, decorations running the gamut of influences from Pop Art to Moroccan ceramics.

Yvonne thinks the reasons for their popularity and ongoing universal appeal lie in their shape, distinctive designs and originality. Also the fact that every culture can relate to hens and chickens, mostly in a positive way. “They have their own magic and they sell themselves,” she says. “We have repeat customers including those from overseas who add to their collection and the hens have been called Dunedin’s little ambassadors!” Yvonne is so energetic, I’m exhausted just watching her. What does she do when she’s not working? “Well it’s not working, its life,” she says. Her own life’s work has spilled over into tableware, nursery sets and printed fabric, as well, of course, as her hens, happy in homes from New York to Reykjavik. Now that’s free range.

Post submitted by Lisa Scott


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