Krista Jones

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ernest Lee the "Chicken Man"

      If you are from South Carolina, chances are you have heard of The Chicken Man or seen his work. An Edgefield native, Ernest Lee is known for his “open air mobile art gallery” that appears throughout Columbia. As Nathan and I researched Ernest Lee's most recent whereabouts, we learned along the way about other venues that carry his work, such as Christopher Park Gallery in downtown Greenville. After some detective work, we now have the latest update on Ernest Lee.

     Currently, the Chicken Man is holding a studio space in downtown Columbia. Don't worry, the mobile gallery is still alive and well, parked outside. His studio is located at:

1015 Whaley Street
Columbia, SC 29201

In addition to finding his work here, you can also visit the downtown Richland County Library on Assembly Street where he currently has a show on the bottom floor (January 13th - March 6th). Nathan and I went to see it yesterday and were blown away. I did not realize that the Chicken Man painted more than chickens and palmetto trees. He also paints portraits and elaborate scenes. 
      When Nathan and I had barely been in the library's show two minutes, we heard a voice behind us say, “You like my work? I'm the Chicken Man.” We wheeled around to find ourselves standing in the presence of the Chicken Man. From our impromptu meeting, we were able to then later visit his studio that afternoon. 

Chickens in the Chicken Man's roost (photo by Nathan Redding)
      I found Ernest Lee to be a very happy man with a passion for his work. One of the questions Nathan and I are hoping to answer this month is if the self-taught artists we meet make art as a hobby or a profession. From my time yesterday afternoon with Ernest Lee, I feel the Chicken Man's art answers both callings. His art is his livelihood for him and his family yet also his passion. This ability that Ernest Lee has created to express himself for a living is inspiring. Often, I hear the advice to find your passion and then everything else will fall in place. As a Senior in college soon to graduate, the difficulty of this advice is looming. Yet, Ernest Lee has done it and is an example that we can all potentially embrace ourselves without fear. In the Chicken Man's words, “be what you are, don't be what you ain't. Because if you be what you ain't then you ain't what you are.”

Three pieces by Ernest Lee (photo by Nathan Redding)

      Meeting the famous Chicken Man yesterday was incredible. I found it hard to comprehend that I was standing in the presence of the man who's work adorns many a wall and presence draws a crowd. Reflecting upon my time with him yesterday, I realize that the Chicken Man not only is unique but is part of our South Carolinian folklore. Folklore, any traditional customs, tales, saying, dances or art forms preserved by a people, is what makes a people different. Ernest Lee's decision to teach himself to paint and share his work has made our culture more colorful. Perhaps then, one of the gems self-taught artists produce is the life, spunk and character they add to themselves but also their surrounding environment. What would South Carolina be without its Chicken Man?


PS-- You can also find the Chicken Man on his personal website ( and his Facebook page (

Mobile Art Gallery parked in front of the Whaley Street studio (photo by Nathan Redding)

Me and Ernest Lee outside his studio (photo by Nathan Redding)

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I found your blog while trying to find recent information on locating Ernest Lee's mobile art studio. Today is Tuesday, April 5, 2011...I am driving through Columbia later on this week and am trying to get as much information as possible in order to locate Mr. Lee. Any information you can provide is much