Think of the new exhibit at the Valentine as “home and garden with chickens.” Or a “house tour with chickens.”
At least, that’s how nationally known photographer Alyssa C. Salomon describes it.
“A Chicken in Every Plot” explores the recent resurgence in the backyard chicken movement, a trend that has been on the rise in Richmond, and across the country, over the past few years.
Salomon, who teaches in the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Photography and Film, had chickens at her studio in New Kent County before they were legal in Richmond. But it wasn’t her own chickens that piqued her interest in this project.
It was other people’s chickens.
“I was curious about how people made their peace with their chickens. Are they messing up their yards? How do people coexist with their chickens? I started meeting people out of mischievous curiosity,” Salomon said.
The result is an exhibit of 40 photographs, many from Salomon’s forays into Richmond backyards, as well as photographs from the Valentine’s collection, that explore Richmond’s history with keeping chickens. The show opens Thursday, Jan. 28.
“We want to focus on topics that are relevant to the city today and to provide a historical context,” said Meg Hughes, curator of the exhibit.
“This exhibit addresses an issue that many people are interested in, which is, where is our food coming from? And how some people are bringing functionality back to their backyards with vegetable beds, bees and even chickens,” she said.
The exhibit will have several items from the museum’s collection on display, such as an egg cup and an entire wall dedicated to vintage deviled egg dishes. Richmond artist Chris Chase has even created a model of a typical Church Hill backyard with a chicken coop.
Although some people describe chickens as “pets with benefits,” Salomon’s interest goes beyond “petting the beak that lays your breakfast.”
The backyard chicken movement touches on a variety of hot-button culture issues, such as “a sense of safety, love of family, pride in home and creativity,” Salomon said.
In short, it’s about more than the chickens.