Pecking Chickens Toy

This is a variation of the toy described by the great folklorist Alan Dundes in his essay “Pecking Chickens: A Folk Toy as a Source for the Study of Worldview” in his widely-read book Folklore Matters (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1989), pp. 83-91. The chickens are mounted on the platform by pegs, and the chicken heads are attached to a pendulum weight by strings that run through and below the platform. When the platform is moved, the pendulum rotates, causing the chicken heads to “peck” up and down in relation to the weight’s position. I found this piece in an Omaha, NE secondhand store and, recognizing it from Dundes, snatched it up with all deliberate speed. In form, it is almost exactly like the largest of Dundes’ United States examples – it may well have used the same templates. The main differences are that it does not use actual corn (using painted kernels instead), the chickens are painted as opposed to the “unfinished” figures in Dundes, and the pendulum is a lead fishing sinker instead of a stone. It is interesting to read Dundes’ interpretation of the specimen as an expression of American largesse. The chickens are very plainly carved and painted compared to Dundes’ intricately-decorated examples from Russia, Poland, Italy, Spain, and Taiwan (even though there are more chickens in this piece than there are in any of these examples), and the platform and pendulum are most likely from scrap as opposed to materials purchased to make the toy. This can be interpreted as expressing a frugal “waste not, want not” ideology, as opposed to the abundance that Dundes reads in his evaluation.

Leave a Reply