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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Birds of a Featherstone

Don Featherstone, inventor of the plastic lawn flamingo, has left the lagoon at age 79.

The patio fixture came to symbolize suburban vulgarity, for sure, if not utter tackiness and bad taste. It was, in fact, shorthand for it. So much so that John Waters famously titled his breakthrough midnight movie Pink Flamingos.

For the novice, the lawn flamingo is a plastic-cast flamingo with two anatomically-incorrect metal legs that plant it into the ground. No irony was intended when Don, a native of Worcester, Massachusetts, created this symbol of suburban luxury.

But the flamingo is such a flamboyant figure in its own right, it practically begged to become part of the camp canon. I have two lawn flamingos in the privacy of my own apartment, up against a wall for support since I can't plant those legs in acrylic floor tiles.

Featherstone created the lawn flamingo in 1957. Its heyday was in the late '50s-'60s. Waters' movie brought back the figurine as a symbol of pure, gaudy camp and it remains, to this day, available and for sale at gardening and hardware stores and at hipster outlets like Urban Outfitters.

In 2009, Madison, Wisconsin made the plastic pink flamingo the city's official bird. While the lawn flamingo is a peaceable creature, the real-life flamingo, like a swan, can be beautiful but vicious. I once saw two fighting in a lake in florida with horrible, bloody pecking and screeching involved.

So, take flight, Featherstone and bless you for bringing this seemingly endless icon of sheer Americana into our lives, knowing the garden gnome can never touch your flamingo, which is ever so much more politically correct than a lawn jockey of any color. (Oh, wait! Do those come in pink?)

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