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July 19, 2023

Don Featherstone With His Plastic Pink Flamingos

When Don Featherstone graduated from art school in 1957, he had no intention of creating the world’s most famous (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) lawn ornament. But that’s precisely what he did, several months later, upon hatching the plastic pink flamingo—that neon totem of tropical tackiness.

Featherstone was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1936, and graduated from the school of the Worcester Art Museum at the age of 21. He loved sculpting, but had no burning ambitions to establish his own studio. So when he got wind of a job opening at Union Products, a local company specializing in plastic lawn decorations, he applied. That decision launched what would become his life’s work.

His first assignment was to sculpt a plastic duck (the resonance between his last name and his professional affiliation with fowl was never lost on Featherstone). He wanted to do it right, so he bought a live version of the aquatic bird and brought it home. After placing the duck carefully in the sink so that he could sketch it, he released it into a park. Featherstone’s higher-ups were pleased with the results, but it was was his next task—to come up with a design for a pink flamingo—that defined his career.

It took Featherstone about three weeks to sculpt the birds from clay, adding hooked beaks and ridges representing feathers. Later that year, the forms emerged from the Union Products factory in sunset-pink plastic, complete with wire legs sharp enough to pierce even the thickest, fertilizer-saturated lawns. They were sold in pairs, via the Sears catalog, for $2.76 a box.

To date over 20 million flamingos have been produced, making Dan Featherstone one of the most prolific sculpturists to have ever lived.


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