People love flamingos! With all my Flamingos In The Bathroom print sales (depicted at the bottom of this post), I wanted to explore this fetish people have with kitschy flamingo themed things and naturally that led me to Don Featherstone, the original creator of the pink lawn flamingo.
Don was a sculptor and after graduating from the Worcester Art Museum’s art school, he began a job designing 3D animals for Union Products. Here he sculpted over 750 molds for the company but it was the pink flamingo he was asked to do in 1957-8 that really took flight, eventually earning him presidential tenure of the company until his retirement in 2000. Unable to obtain a real life flamingo, Don based his blue print from pictures from the popular National Geographic magazines.
Why was the pink flamingo so popular? It was the 1950s and pink was in. Coming out of The Great Depression, Americans saw pink as the new celebratory, up beat, flashy colour of affluence. New homes were filled with Persian pink curtains, flamingo print wall paper, Bermuda pink dishwashers, cherry blossom refrigerators and cotton Candy washer and dryers, even Elvis bought himself a pink Cadillac. Furthermore, after the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 and a row of upscale hotels were destroyed, architects and interior designers rebuilt more modest hotels catering to the working class. These interiors were again dressed in flamingo themed pinks. The 1950s also saw the opening of the Miami Beach hotel: the Flamingo, which added a new element of razzle dazzle to the animal. Along with the new acquisition of wealth, vacationers coming back from Florida also sought flamingo souvenirs.
As luck would have it, it was Don Featherstone, from Fitzburg, Massachusetts, an already avid and prolific sculptor who hit the rising American middle class with just the right thing at just the right time with his affordable, cheeky pink lawn flamingo. A charming character he must have been, they say he kept 57 plastic flamingos on his back lawn coinciding with the year of its creation, 1957. As if that wasn’t eccentric enough, him and his wife Nancy coordinated matching outfits for over 35 years! Picking out patterned flaming fabrics and creating over 40+ outfits together, they must have been quite the sighting.
Along with a delightful domestic life, Don was recognized and celebrated professionally too. In 1996 he was awarded with the Ig Nobel Prize, an annually awarded prize since 1991 for an achievement in a work that not only makes people laugh, but think also. (Ig is a satiric play on the Nobel Prize, taken from the word ignoble, meaning not noble).
To me, the kitschy pink lawn flamingo is a celebration of life and a reminder that life is about perspective. One doesn’t need to venture far for humour and happinesses and that it is something that is affordable, within reach, and can be found right on your lawn.
Leaving behind his trail of pink plastic flamingos on suburban lawns across North America, Don Featherstone died at 79 of Lewy body dementia and although Union Products eventually closed in November 2006, his legacy continues. A New York company purchased the molds and subcontracted production to a Fitchburg company (the place of his death), Cado Products, who eventually purchased the copyrights and plastic molds. To this day, you can now still buy Don’s plastic pink flamingos, usually sold in sets of 2, 1 head erect and nearly 3 feet high and the other bending over to feed, both celebrating fun, both celebrating life.
In case you’re curious, here is my own kitschy Flamingo themed artwork, Flamingos In The Bathroom! -possibly unconciously inspired by Don Featherstone, I remember growing up we had flamingos on our lawn too! Comes in your classic art print, shower curtain, bath mat, hand and bath towels. Click button below.