Fowl Women

Women and their birds.  A friend sent me a copy of a blog by artist, Susan Branch, about a woman from Martha’s Vineyard and her beloved chickens.  Her name was Nancy Luce (1814-1890) and legend has it she lived a rather lonely existence caring for her parents until their death and then falling ill herself.  Her only refuges in life were her poetry and poultry.  She even had portraits taken with her named hens.

Portrait of Nancy Luce

Nancy perpetuated her eccentricity by burying her birds in a small graveyard and marking each grave with individually carved stones.  Her one wish was to rest in piece with her friends.  Martha’s Vineyard visitors still pay homage to the legend and Nancy by leaving chickenalia at her gravesite and even maintaining a facebook page.

Her story has been immortalized by artist, Daniel Waters, in this wood block print that commemorates Nancy’s love (and death) of  her fowl.

On the opposite end of the fowl women spectrum is the 91 year old dowager Duchess of Devonshire who has kept chickens all her life even before her Duchess days.  Her poultry portrait is a much happier affair than the melancholy mood of Nancy’s image.

Dowager Duchess with her prize hens

The Dowager Duchess known as Deborah or “Debo” to her friends lived at the historic Derbyshire estate, Chatsworth, until the death of her husband, the Duke in 2004.  She now lives in a smaller house in Edensor, on the edge of the estate,  still writing and keeping her chickens.  She wrote about her extraordinary life in her recent autobiography, Wait for Me, and talks of meeting kings, the Kennedys and even a brief encounter with Adolf Hitler…a much brighter tome than poor Nancy’s tale.

The Duchess with her Chatsworth Chickens

I don’t know if the Duchess will be buried with her birds, but I think Nancy could have taken a few pointers from Debo’s wisdom when in a newspaper  interview she summed it all up by saying….”When you are very old you cry over some things but not a lot”.