Folk artist brings feathery touch to Aiken Center for the Arts

·2 min read

Jul. 15—One of South Carolina's most prominent folk artists was a part of downtown Aiken's scene this week, with Edgefield native Edward Lee visiting Aiken Center for the Arts.

Known to many as "The Chicken Man" due to his frequent use of poultry in paintings, Lee spent a couple of hours on Laurens Street on Thursday afternoon, painting first outside the arts center's door and then moving a few feet inside once rain began. Lee, a 1980 graduate of Strom Thurmond High School, is largely known for his presence in Columbia where he sometimes sets up a roadside gallery.

During his Aiken visit, he completed a couple of paintings and sold several, including one he had finished a few minutes before. Among his customers was Aimee Moreno, who first heard of Lee during her years as a University of South Carolina student. Thursday, she met him for the first time.

"He was just so gregarious and lovely," she said. "I think maybe I've known about his work for 20 years. He's a real treasure. I hope more people get to know his work and support his art."

Moreno's purchases included a chicken creation titled "Jump" and "a print of a portrait that he did of James Brown that was really, really cool," she recalled.

Lee has participated in Aiken's Makin', an arts and crafts festival traditionally held in September, and tends to concentrate on animals and wildlife scenes, he said.

As described on the arts center's website, he is one of five "rural creatives" with work currently on display in the main gallery via a community arts program known as Create: Rural SC. Lee's compatriots in the program are Rajasekhar Yarraguntla ("Mr. Y"), James Wilson, Robert Matheson and Terrance Washington.

Caroline Gwin, the arts center's executive director, said the five-artist exhibit is to be up through July 28. As for the Edgefield County native, she said, "Art just comes out of him. He has to paint. When he sees things, he paints them. He paints his ideas and he paints freely and he's full of joy."

Lee said the "chicken" angle has its origins from around 1979, in Thomson, Georgia, based on a friend's idea in connection with a bantam rooster. "It was a suggestion, and I just took it and ran with it," he said.

Moreno said she appreciates Lee's emphasis on "using what's at hand and not worrying too much about perfection." The artist frequently uses donated or second-hand material for painting surfaces and frames, adding to the rustic look in his creations.