What’s fun, funky, and fabulously flamboyant? Pink flamingos!

Wing it. Who needs a plastic flamingo when a simple pink profile gets the message across? Images by Diane Morey Sitton

You see them everywhere, like them or not: day-glo birds posing beside pools and palm trees, posturing next to patios and garden paths, and strutting their pink plastic stuff in flower beds and borders.

Tropical vibe. Want to add a light-hearted touch of the tropics? Display a pink flamingo made from a coconut.

Before they became pop culture icons, pink flamingos were just, well, pink flamingos. With their S-shaped necks and bright pink feathers, the exotic wading birds strolled into notoriety on their lanky, stilt-like legs in 1957, when plastics molding company Union Products hired the late Don Featherstone to design three-dimensional lawn ornaments for their “Plastics for the Lawn” collection.

Action figure. This whirligig-like flamingo looks like it has places to go.

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No doubt Featherstone drew inspiration from the 50’s—an all-things-pink era when pink washing machines and pink Cadillacs were cool. At the time, Florida—with its unofficial pink flamingo symbol—was emerging in full feather as a tropical hot spot.

Create a scene. Pink flamingos have evolved from plastic toy-like yard art to detailed focal points.

As fate would have it, on his second assignment with the plastics company, the sculptor with nine years fine arts training inadvertently hatched a decades’ long fad. Since there were no live flamingos in Leominster, Massachusetts (the self-proclaimed “Plastics Capital of the World”), Featherstone based his 3-D clay model on flamingo images in National Geographic. The project took two weeks. Although the flaming pink polyethylene yard art bird was intended as a symbol of tropical elegance, it became viewed as a kitschy mass-produced lawn ornament that was so bad it was good.

On the march. Early on, plastic flamingos earned the reputation for being so bad they were good.

There’s a certain amount of irony that the bird-brained design continued to evolve. After the first year, the company upgraded to engraved feather markings. In 1985, Featherstone added his signature, thus creating “designer flamingos.” In 1997, innovators traded the indelible ink eyes with plastic eyes that snapped in place like dolls’ eyes.

Color coordinated. Pink flamingos are versatile. Display them in flower beds, beside pools, or nestled in foliage.

During the plastic bird’s heyday, a Smithsonian magazine contributor wrote that to some folks displaying pink flamingos had become a way of “hinting at one’s own good taste by reveling in the bad taste of others.” Not surprisingly, “flamingo fundraisers” took flight. After being “flocked” –i.e., waking up to a lawn full of the plastic birds—the embarrassed victim was expected to feather the charity’s nest with a donation in order to make the birds go away.

Bird’s eye view. Plastic pink flamingos have been a popular yard ornament since 1957.

Today, yard art flamingos number in the millions. And, like their pink poly predecessors, yard art flamingos continue to sport new features. Following in Featherstone’s footsteps, artisans craft pink flamingos from tin and wood. They use repurposed garden tools — even coconuts – to personify the gawky bird. They’ve replaced the spindly wire “legs” with spray-painted rebar; they’ve added knees and all manner of bird feet.

For the birds. Flamingo yard art complements pools, streams, and other water features.

But the question remains: Are pink flamingos symbols of tropical paradise or lawn art kitsch? You be the judge. One way or the other, it looks like the ever-popular yard art birds are here to stay.

Technicolor. Who says flamingos have to be pink! This plastic flamingo sports various shades of green, pink, and purple.
Posted by Diane Morey Sitton
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