We're Not Joking, There Are Flying Chicken Statues at the Heights H-E-B

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get some Spicy Whataburger Ketchup, of course.

By Emma Schkloven February 12, 2021 Published in the December 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Amy Kinkead

As we’ve mentioned already, public art isn’t limited to outdoor parks and building walls these days. Many pieces sit on private property, just waiting for passersby to enjoy. Enter H-E-B. Through its public art program, launched in 2018, the Texas-based grocery store chain has begun installing works in some of its newer locations, including Elaine Bradford’s whimsically wacky piece in which chickens appear to soar through the air at the Heights H-E-B.

Crazy as it sounds, Bradford drew her inspiration for the piece from some H-E-B history. During the Great Depression H-E-B employees would throw handfuls of nickels and, yes, tagged live chickens, good for free groceries, as part of an ad campaign. So, playing with two classic idioms of the English language, Bradford hung a funky flock of poultry and oversized coins from the ceiling of the Heights store’s entrance via nearly invisible wires that make the birds, and the coins, appear to be flying.

Image: Amy Kinkead

Take some time out of your shopping trip to look up, and you’ll notice those chickens are covered in more than just feathers; They’re all wearing handmade sweaters—a signature element of Bradford’s work (her grandmother taught her to crochet when she was a kid). The color combinations on those garments aren’t random, either. They’re pulled directly from the packaging of some of H-E-B’s most popular products, including its Texas-shaped tortilla chips, That Green Sauce, and the Spicy Whataburger Ketchup. Keep staring, and you might just spot the Buffalo nickel hidden among the floating coinage.

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