According to the Chinese zodiac, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster - which includes barnyard fowl of either sex - and for 33 years Yvonne Sutherland has been creating brightly painted ceramic hens that have become collector’s items around the world.Sutherland’s Happy Hens heritage workshop is at Portobello on Otago Harbour, outside the popular cruise ship port of Dunedin.
An art teacher with a love of history, she was inspired by New Zealand’s colonial life and her first Happy Hens were tributes to the old English birds with marvellous plumage that came across the sea with European settlers, like Sussex chickens and Plymouth Rock and Wyandotte roosters.
She made a few handpainted ceramic birds for an eager local market and Happy Hens took off.
Originally all Happy Hens were hand-moulded, but as demand increased she had to teach herself the slip-casting method of production.
Sutherland thinks the reasons for their popularity and on-going universal appeal lie in their distinctive designs and originality.‘They have their own magic and they sell themselves,’ she said.
‘We have repeat customers, many from overseas, who add to their collection and Happy Hens have been called Dunedin’s little ambassadors.
’There will no doubt be many more members of the Happy Hens Collectors Club as cruise ships call at Dunedin during the Year of the Rooster which goes through until February 2018.