Sad news from Improbable Research: Donald Featherstone, the man behind the iconic pink flamingo lawn ornament, has died at age 79.
Don created the flamingo when he was freshly graduated from art school, and newly employed at a plastics factory. One of his first assignments was to create three-dimensional plastic lawn ornaments (up to that time, most plastic lawn ornaments were more or less flat). The flamingo was one of his earliest efforts for the factory.
Eventually he became president of the company. After Don retired, dire things were done, by his successor, to the flamingo, triggering a worldwide protest, which eventually led to a more or less happy rallying of the forces of Good, and a restoration of the plastic pink flamingo’s status. In 2011, the flamingo attained new heights, when the Disney movie Gnomeo and Juliet featured a plastic pink lawn ornament named “Featherstone”.
Featherstone’s lawn sculptures have become beloved badges of American suburban kitsch, adored ironically by probably about as many people as enjoy them sincerely. And of course, their ticky-tacky ubiquity inspired the title of John Waters’ breakthrough film Pink Flamingos, which has nothing to do with the ornaments. Waters discussed the connection in an interview with Smithsonian.com:
“The reason I called it Pink Flamingos was because the movie was so outrageous that we wanted to have a very normal title that wasn’t exploitative,” Waters says. “To this day, I’m convinced that people think it’s a movie about Florida.” Waters enjoyed the plastic knickknack’s earnest air: Though his own stylish mom might have disapproved, the day-glo wading birds were, back then, a straightforward attempt at working-class neighborhood beautification. “The only people who had them had them for real, without irony,” Waters says. “My movie wrecked that.” Forty years later, the sculptures have become unlikely fixtures of a certain kind of high-end sensibility, a shorthand for tongue-in-cheek tackiness.
Featherstone is survived by his wife Nancy.