Donald Featherstone, Creator Of Plastic Pink Lawn Flamingo, Dies

Jun 23, 2015
Originally published on June 23, 2015 7:56 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

One American product whose popularity may just outlive the Green Giant is - wait for it - the pink lawn flamingo. Well, the creator of the plastic lawn statue died on Monday - Donald Featherstone. He was 79. He was actually a classically-trained artist. Here he is speaking to Robert Siegel in 2006.

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DONALD FEATHERSTONE: I was at nine years of art school and came out and decided to make a living rather than starve to death. Everybody said plastic was the thing to do in '57.

CORNISH: So he went to work for a plastics company, and the ultimate symbol of kitsch was born. Here to remember Don Featherstone and his pink creation is Tom Herzing. He co-wrote the book, "The Original Pink Flamingos: Splendor On The Grass" with Featherstone.

Tom Herzing, welcome to the program.

TOM HERZING: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: I want to give my condolences to begin with. Obviously, after writing a book together, you guys were very good friends.

HERZING: We were dear friends, and he was just the wittiest person I knew.

CORNISH: We called the pink flamingo the ultimate in kitsch. And how did Don feel about that, especially when it fell out of favor, right? There were neighborhoods actually banning them at one point.

HERZING: Well, that has happened, but I think you have to remember that initially, they were a sign of taste. People thought that they were actual attractive decorations for their lawns. It was only after the snobs among us decided that this was a sign of bad taste, and then we had cities ban them, churches were actually selling chances on flamingo-ing your fellow congregants, where parishioners would come in the middle of the night and fill your lawn with pink plastic flamingos. And a few wise churches were selling flamingo insurance.

CORNISH: Flamingo insurance - what is that?

HERZING: If you paid to your church, they would guarantee that fellow parishioners would rush in in the middle of the night and prevent your lawn from being infested with pink plastic flamingos.

CORNISH: (Laughter). Why do you think the pink flamingo was able to carve such a place in American culture?

HERZING: Well, once of course, it was just simply the pride that people had in decorating their lawns. After a while, I think it was something that appealed to a lot of people's sense of irony. You know, plastics were the thing in the 1950s. After that, I think we sort of wanted to criticize the plastic culture.

CORNISH: What are you going to remember most about Don Featherstone?

HERZING: I think his wit and his strange sense of humor. He and his wife, Nancy, always dressed identically. Nancy made all their clothing, and when they walked the trade shows you could identify them. He was rather tall. She was rather small. And they'd be out there in pinstripe suits, wearing red, white and blue ties, button-down collars and shiny oxfords. People used to gather around them like rock stars.

CORNISH: Well, Tom Herzing, thank you so much for sharing your memories of your friend.

HERZING: Thank you so much, Audie.

CORNISH: That was Tom Herzing speaking to us about Don Featherstone, creator of the original plastic pink flamingo. Featherstone died on Monday at age 79. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.