Beauty & Beast on the Chicken Tracks Art Ranch
Photographed by Jesse Walker
Chuck Hanes isn’t really a beast. He’s a great guy with an epic beard and deep, rolling laugh. He just makes weird, manly-looking pottery that could be the china pattern for the Hell’s Angels. But, when you stack his work next to the lovely work of his partner, Elizabeth Collins – who is, in fact, a beauty – you’re able to see how they got their business name.
Now, the two have come up with another cool name – the Chicken Tracks Art Ranch. It’s what they call their home in the countryside just outside of Madison that they have recently opened up to the community. Last fall, they held the first Chicken Tracks Art Festival, and this summer they will welcome young art students to Camp Color Wheel. Adult students can stop by the ranch any given Tuesday for pottery classes in their studio, regardless of skill level. They love helping people discover their own inner beauty or beast.
Here, they welcome Lake Oconee Living to the ranch to hold some chickens and talk pottery.
First, tell me about how you came up with the business name, Beauty and Beast.
CHUCK: It’s more about our style than our personality.
ELIZABETH: When we started doing our work together, it was really cool to show it together because you could see the real contrast in styles. He was doing his thing – a lot of the skulls and real manly, dark, ghoulish kind of creatures – and I was doing stuff like mermaids and jewelry. There’s just a masculine/feminine aspect to our work.
Other than masculine/feminine or dark/light, are there any other differences?
ELIZABETH: I tend to do more hand built work with slabs or coils and Chuck tends to gravitate more toward the wheel. So he does a lot more of the throwing and I do more of the hand building, which makes our styles really different. Even if we both throw something, you can usually tell if it’s mine or his.
CHUCK: Not all the time though. Sometimes you can’t tell. A lot of her style has rubbed off on my and vice versa. Sometimes I’ll pick something up and say, “Did I do that?”
What’s your favorite piece that Elizabeth has created?
CHUCK: Her faces. Definitely her faces. Probably my favorite is the one she did of me.
ELIZABETH: I like doing faces. It’s usually women’s faces, African faces.
ELIZABETH: I’m inspired by the Gullah Geechee peoples, the coastal Africans. They have kind of kept their heritage and their culture intact. They’re very proud people, with strong faces, and there’s just so much character. I really like any kind of old, gnarly faces, the way people really look.
ELIZABETH: Well, Chicken Tracks Art Ranch is just the name we came up with for our home and what we are trying to establish here now. We had our first festival in the fall. We invited our artist friends and had a great outdoor festival. It was a big hit. And now, our friend Lindy Burnett who is an artist and illustrator is moving to Florida this summer. She’s had an art academy at her house for the last ten years, an after-school art program, and does Camp Color Wheel in the summer. So she asked if we would take over. We had to give it some thought, but it’s really what I’ve wanted to do here all along. I’ve wanted to make a place where people can come and be creative in a lot of different areas, not just pottery, and enjoy the animals and the outdoors.
What are you hoping to achieve by doing that?
ELIZABETH: Really just nurturing that creative soul. I think often that part of us is overlooked, especially with teenagers. There’s such a big group of kids that aren’t necessarily the athletes and aren’t necessarily the academics. They’re the creative ones, they need to create, and that’s an important part of our society too. Having art in the world is important and having creative people in it. Art touches all elements of life. So it’s important to nurture it. We enjoy art, we enjoy our place, we enjoy creating things out of nothing. There’s something really gratifying about it and we want to share that with people, especially young people.
You teach all kinds of other classes around the area too, right?
ELIZABETH: We do. We teach classes at Crossroads school through the Steffen Thomas Museum. We do classes at the Plaza in Eatonton. Every Tuesday we offer a pottery class at the ranch. It can be for any level. People can come and throw and use the studio, bring their wine. We’re trying to get that going. We may offer some workshops in the future, but right now we’re just focusing on getting ready for those four weeks of summer camp.
So your schedules are about to be crazy.
CHUCK: No crazier than they always are.
ELIZABETH: We’re having to let a few things go to make time for everything. We’re both really involved in the Madison Artists Guild; I’m the director over the guild and Chuck is the gallery manager. The board knows that we’re shifting in this direction, so we’re looking for somebody to take over.
Even so, how will you balance everything and still go to shows and festivals?
CHUCK: With the art classes, we’ll only be four days a week, so that will free up our weekends for traveling to shows and stuff.
ELIZABETH: We don’t travel quite as much as we used to, but we still get around the Southeast. We tend to follow more of the folk art shows than the fine art shows. That’s more of our niche.
What are your biggest sellers at shows?
ELIZABETH: The face mugs are pretty consistent sellers. Our newest hot item right now is the egg tray. We just started doing those and people are really liking them to hold their fresh eggs.
So you probably get to see the same people – fellow artists – at these shows every year?
ELIZABETH: Yes, we call it our “tribe” and it’s the most accepting group of people. Art people will accept just about anybody as long as you’re genuine. They’re just the nicest people and have the same values we do.
What kind of values?
ELIZABETH: I mean, money is nice, don’t get me wrong, but there are things we could be doing to make more money. We just see so many benefits in doing what we do. We have a lot of freedom, we meet the coolest and most interesting people, we can enjoy our animals. So there are so many wonderful things about it and that’s what we choose. I guess you could say we don’t mind being poor because we don’t feel poor.
CHUCK: No, we’re rich. We just don’t have any money.
Amen. Where can people find out more about summer camps and classes?
ELIZABETH: The best way is through Facebook but we do have our website up now. www.chickentracksartranch.com.