Collector: Sara Pinkham, Exhibition and Engagement Coordinator; Main Library Gallery, University of Iowa Libraries
Collection Name: A "Clucktion" of Vintage Chickens

Collection Statement:

"This collection of vintage ceramic chickens includes several that were passed down to me from my grandmother. I have added a handful over the years, including miniatures, and will undoubtedly add more. The chickens primarily appear to have been manufactured in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. While some are unmarked, others were imported from Japan by Enesco. The simple significance of these common collectibles is best understood by knowing a bit more about my grandmother, Margaret Keiner Freerking, and my great-grandmother, Edith Wessel Keiner (1888–1966).

Born in rural western Iowa in 1923, Margaret was one of nine children in a nomadic family. “We didn’t stay in one place very long,” she said. Her father would move the whole household multiple times per year, especially during The Great Depression (1929–1933), depending on where he could find work as a farm hand or on the railroad. They sampled life in several towns in western Iowa, and even spent a few months in South Dakota. The Keiner siblings rarely finished a school year in the same place.

Because they were so mobile, Margaret recalls having very few possessions as a child. When she was a young adult, her parents finally settled in rural Charter Oak in the early 1940s. Her mother, Edith, felt as though she could truly establish a home and have more things of her own. A small selection of ceramic chickens gradually began to populate the Keiner dwelling.

At some point in time, Margaret was the recipient of Edith’s chickens. The collection grew. Margaret’s husband, Lee, would sometimes present a set of ceramic chickens as a gift on holidays or special occasions. Decades later, most of the chickens were entrusted to me, one set at a time. My mom and sister also each have a few chickens, which were borrowed for this exhibit.

I’ve always had a fondness for chickens, whether in art or in real life. They are curious birds with their own unique language, who love nothing better than an excellent dust bath, a dessert of fresh berries, and room to explore in the sunshine. This collection reminds me of the simple joys in life – for chickens, and for Margaret and Edith."

Family photos: *click* to expand with captions

Featured collections items:

  • 10 pairs of ceramic hens and roosters, including one set of salt and pepper shakers
  • 7 miniature ceramic hens and roosters
  • 1 unpaired ceramic salt and pepper shaker rooster

There are 28 total ceramic chickens on display. Most are unmarked by the manufacturer or importer, but some were imported from Japan by Enesco.

Want a better look? Guests can view Sara's collection on the First Floor of Macbride Hall, just south of Iowa Hall, starting September 22, 2021 through mid-March, 2022.