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Flamingos aren’t commonly found in the wild in the United States. That is, unless you live in the suburbs, and you can thank Don Featherstone for that.
Who was Don Featherstone? He was the artist behind the plastic lawn flamingo that has become a staple of American lawns for more than 60 years.
Don Featherstone: The Man Behind the Plastic Pink Flamingo
There is perhaps no more iconic relic to our favorite fowl than the plastic lawn piece, which Featherstone created in 1957. Born in 1936 in Worcester, Massachusetts, he came up with the idea for a plastic pink flamingo in the same year as graduating from the art school of the Worcester Art Museum.
Fresh out of school, Featherstone accepted a position with Union Products, a plastic lawn manufacturer in Leominster, Massachusetts. First, he made some other three-dimensional products, like a 3-D duck sculpture, that didn’t move the needle much. But not long after taking the job, he crafted his first flamingo, and the phenomenon was born.
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“I got myself a National Geographic magazine and found a photograph to use as a model. And I made myself a plastic one,” Featherstone told the Tampa Bay Times in 2002. “I know some people think plastic flamingos are tasteless and tacky. But I love them.”
It took a couple weeks to prototype both halves of his first plastic pink flamingo, but then he had his masterpiece.
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Featherstone loved his work so much that he had more than enough decorating his own lawn. In 2006, he had 57 plastic lawn flamingos outside his Fitchburg, Massachusetts, home, an ode to the year he created them.
Don Featherstone's Legacy
The impact of Featherstone’s work has been felt in America for decades. In 1972, John Waters’ movie Pink Flamingos prominently featured plastic pink flamingos. In 1996, Featherston was awarded the Ig Nobel Art Prize for his flamingo. In 2009, the city of Madison, Wisconsin, named the pink plastic flamingo as its official bird by a vote of 15 to 4. And still today, you can find lawns sporting plastic pink flamingos across America.
Featherstone’s flamingos did have a dip in popularity in the 1960s, though, as millions of youths fought back against the mainstream and anything associated with their parents, which included plastic lawn decorations. They fell out of favor, but it turned out only for a brief period. By the early 1970s, the uncoolness of the flamingo had done a full 180 - it had become such a pariah that it was now cool, and thus images of the bird, including plastic pink lawn ones, roared back into style.
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The work has outlived the man himself, who died in 2015 at age 79. His creation is as quirky as he was. He and his wife famously dressed identically for more than 35 years, often exploring with style and utilizing plenty of color in their collective wardrobe. Featherstone’s unique, artistic eye envisioned one of the most iconic pieces of art in American history.
The indelible nature of Don Featherstone’s plastic pink flamingos appear impervious to time and cultural change in this country. From sea to shining sea, there will always be someone, somewhere, who can’t help but smile when they see their flamingo friend hanging out in their lawn, catching some rays, enjoying a bit of shade, or doing whatever else plastic pink flamingos do.