It’s remarkable to me what a little life experience will add to a story I’ve heard. You may remember that I found myself in Charleston, South Carolina in June for a marketing meeting. I arrived a day early and had some time to walk around the city. I was walking down the street, looked up and across the street and this is what I saw.
That’s right–across the street, through some trees, in the park I saw a giant chicken and rooster. Well that’s enough to derail a lot of people I’d like to think… I couldn’t help but wonder “why would anyone dedicate an entire tent to chicken paintings?”.
Here’s the part where some life experience helps. Since that day in Charleston, I’ve started raising chickens. I bought them with the intent of having fresh eggs, something I’ve learned to love over the years. But an amazing thing happened. I learned that chickens are remarkable creatures. They are perfect at being exactly what they are supposed to be, and that has a profound effect on how I feel about the world. I’ve eaten breakfast out by their coop many a day, sat watching them and talking with friends in the dusk, allowing the calmness of their perfect “being” to wash over me.
I woke up this morning and one of my new chickens was crowing. For some reason that sound brought to mind my conversation with Madison on that warm summer day in Charleston.
Madison has always loved to paint, and has used it for therapy throughout her life. Earlier in life she started painting different things hoping to create a gallery, start selling, and make a living doing what she loved.
Then in her mid-thirties tragedy struck her family–literally. Three of her close family were killed in an accident with an 18-wheel truck. The suddenness of the tragedy, and so many of her family being taken at once left her numb, frozen in time–feeling fear and anger and wondering if God had made a mistake. Not knowing what to do, she turned to the most natural form of therapy in her life – painting.
She lives on a farm in South Carolina, and she retired to her barn one day to paint and grieve and, hopefully, find some peace. Her guinea chickens were pecking and scratching and clucking around the barnyard when a hawk fell from the sky, killed one of the chickens, grabbed it in it’s talons, and flew off.
The rest of the chickens were terrified, and came running to Madison. Clucking and screaming in their fear of the predator that had struck. To Madison she felt like the vocalization of the birds was their way of processing the tragedy, of purging their anger and fear. Soon, the chickens returned to what they do best–being chickens. They returned to living in the moment and started scratching and pecking and clucking again.
That’s when the breakthrough came for Madison. Even though the hawk may return in fifteen minutes, or fifteen days, the chickens were in the “now”. For right now the chickens were going to enjoy their lives. Madison termed it “Present Time Joy”. They, and she, were simply happy to be in the moment they had been given. She felt a wave of relief and happiness sweep over her as she realized she still had much to do in the moments that were a gift to her.
Then she heard a voice, The Voice, say “Now paint chickens and tell the story of what just happened. Share the lesson you’ve just learned”. Thoughts of what she had imagined her career to be–selling paintings in the big cities, art galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and Europe flashed through her mind. She replied to the voice “Nobody will buy chickens!”.
The voice replied “Paint and talk. I will take care of the rest”.
That was in 1995, and in that moment she became aware of how connected we all are, connected by an “eternal force” from which we all came. She has painted chickens and told the story every since. Now her chickens hang in galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and Europe. But what means even more to her is that her chickens, her creations, are hanging in homes and bringing happiness to thousands of people throughout the eastern United States – and she is sure each painting communicates how we are all connected. Each creation helps people appreciate their “Present Time Joy” as a result of Madison painting the chickens, and telling the story.
Postscript: I spoke with Madison over the course of several hours that day. She is a fascinating lady. Many came to her tent there in the park to visit, and many purchased her paintings. She takes the time to learn about each person that comes along, tells them a version of the story that she thinks best fits them, and smiles and laughs a lot.
When someone purchases a painting, she takes the time to write a personal message related to the story on the back of the painting, positive that the happiness of her message on the back makes the painting on the front mean more.
I learned a lot from Madison.