Don Featherstone, a sculptor who created the pink flamingo — and simultaneously became an icon of offbeat American culture, himself — died on June 22 at the Caldwell Home extended care facility in Fitchburg, Mass.
He was 79.
His wife, Nancy Featherstone, said he died surrounded by family members. He had Lewy body disease, a type of dementia, she said.
“He had it for a long time. We didn't know it. It was only diagnosed two years ago,” Nancy said. “He had it for years, we just didn't know what it was.”
Don Featherstone's death sparked widespread media attention. Nancy Featherstone said she had just returned from the Caldwell Home after her husband passed away, when the phone rang. It was the Boston Globe.
That is a testament to Featherstone's fame.
Featherstone was just 21 years old when Union Products Inc. hired him. The blow molder in Leominster, Mass., specialized in plastic lawn ornaments. The pink flamingo was already popular, dating to the mid-1880s when they were made of cast iron. Union Products' first model was a flat, injection molded version.
“They looked like stuff you'd find in manual training class, with cut wood,” Featherstone said in a Plastics News article published in 1996. Ugly. Then the year before he joined the company, Union Products came out with a three-dimensional foam bird. Dogs liked to chew it up.
When he arrived in 1957, Featherstone's first assignment was sculpting Charlie the Duck. Then he worked on a better flamingo. The company injection molded two halves then glued them together. But then in the early 1970s, Featherstone sculpted the blow molded flamingo.
Today nobody remembers Charlie the Duck.
Featherstone worked for Union Products for 43 years. He designed hundreds of lawn ornaments, from pilgrims to witches to Uncle Sam figures. The pink flamingo is the one that really took off, jazzing up the lawns of suburban tract houses and the loft apartment of hipsters, alike.