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‘I love it, and people love what I do’: Columbia’s ‘Chicken Man’ shows appreciation with community event

Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 6:54 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 16, 2021 at 7:24 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - For the next five days, the corner of Gervais St. and Oak St. in Columbia will be full of hundreds of paintings of chickens.

It’s part of a reception being put on by Ernest Lee, the Columbia artist better known as “The Chicken Man.” Lee has been painting in Columbia for more than 20 years and the outdoor corner stand has been his workplace for about the last six years.

“The chicken chose me, I didn’t choose it,” Lee said with a laugh.

For many in Columbia, both the Chicken Man and his chicken art have become iconic.

“He’s all around. You never know where you’re going to see one of his prints,” Marlene Steiner said.

Steiner was among those who stopped by an event that started Friday and runs through Tuesday at the Chicken Man’s stand at 2250 Gervais St. The reception included free food from Lee’s family Friday, and a band is scheduled to perform Saturday.

“The next five days, I’ll just come out, going to have my suit on, and sell it,” Lee said. “What I normally do every day.”

But for this event, he is showing off a lot more paintings than normal — more than 400 pieces, Lee estimated.

Effson Bryant stopped at the event on his way home from a trip to Florida, having heard about the Chicken Man over time. He bought a couple of pieces Friday and might be back for more.

“He’s so gifted and so talented, and I had to get me several pieces of that,” Bryant said. “Matter of fact, there’s one more piece I want, I’m going to buy. I love that it’s really about the Emanuel Nine, and I knew Sen. Rev. Pinckney real well.”

Steiner, who has known Lee since 2000 and owns multiple paintings by him, said Lee’s character brings her back as much as his art.

“He’s very generous. He’s a very giving person, and you won’t meet a nicer person to deal with,” she said.

Lee said sales this weekend can help him with his goal to eventually move to an indoor gallery and store.

“I would like to, but I’m not in a hurry to do that,” he said.

But even more, he wanted to hold the event to show his appreciation for the people who have supported him over the years.

“I’ve been blessed really,” Lee said. “My work has really been taking off in Columbia. Out of all the places I go, I see them more here, and it’s been a blessing, and maybe some doors are going to open up for me for, I don’t know, a studio.”

Regardless of where he works, the Chicken Man hopes to do one thing above all: make people happy.

“And I love it, and people love what I do,” Lee said.

The event will run Friday through Tuesday, every day from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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