Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary
Aug. 31, 2022
Beloved Prairie Chicken sculpture re-installed on main campus after 4-year absence
Editor's note: Article updated Sept. 1
The Prairie Chicken has come home to roost.
Four years after the University of Calgary’s most famous artwork was plucked from its perch in front of the Administration Building, the stainless steel sculpture has returned to campus, with the so-called “Prairie Chicken” re-installed on Wednesday and Thursday.
“I think my father would be happy to know it’s been so well looked after, and that it will be re-installed in the same place where he intended it to go,” says Alexander Norris, son of Canadian artist George A. Norris, the creative force behind UCalgary’s signature sculpture.
Father and son worked to erect the lofty sculpture
The younger Norris, now a city councillor in Montreal, was with his dad on the day the dynamic steel creation was first installed atop a small grassy hill, back in 1975.
Alexander admits he was probably too young to have been of much help, but he remembers his father’s passion for the 5.5-metre, 4.1 tonne statue, specifically designed for the Swann Mall over which it stood for 44 years before a campus makeover sent it into temporary storage.
George A. Norris, who passed away in 2013, was known for abstract stainless steel installations, and a close cousin of the campus chicken can be found in Vancouver, in the form of a giant crab soaking in the fountain outside MacMilan Space Centre.
‘Untitled’ until students decided otherwise
But UCalgary’s $35,000 Norris sculpture didn’t actually start with a name, and it was generations of students who made the Prairie Chicken nickname part of the official university lexicon.
Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.
“He didn’t often name his pieces, because those who saw them should be allowed to interpret the art without any influence,” explains the artist’s son, one of three children born to Norris and his wife Phyllis.
“My dad knew that it was called the Prairie Chicken by students, and that didn’t bother him at all — he was happy with that.”
Family proud over artistic legacy
Alexander Norris says his father, an anti-materialist and an early environmentalist who enjoyed the simple life on Vancouver Island, would have appreciated knowing his chicken is still a valued landmark — as does his family.
“I’m very proud of my dad and what he did over the years.”
Norris, born in 1928, left a legacy of artwork in cities across his home province of British Columbia, including Victoria, Golden, Penticton, Kimberley, Nanaimo and North Vancouver.