Last Monday (22nd) Don Featherstone died aged 79. You may not know his name, but millions of Americans do. His name is engraved on the bottom of millions of pink plastic flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber plasticus) which they’ve planted in their yards – that’s ‘gardens’ if you’re British.
It seems easy to offer a sardonic commentary, but we Brits have also contributed kitsch to the decorative scene: flying ducks* or, as I once had, plaster dogs.
Before I offer a selection of obituary quotes, let us respect the memory of someone who fate decreed would offer a “flagrant totem of suburban satisfaction and, in later years, postmodern irony.” Few achieve such immortality.
From Yankee Magazine: Invented by Don Featherstone in 1957, the creatures’ sole breeding ground for 50 years was the Union Products factory. From there, they migrated to front lawns and flowerbeds around the world – no small feat for such a generally lethargic creature. (The plastic flamingo has, on occasion, been clocked at the feisty speed of 120 mph, although that seems to happen only in Florida during hurricane season.)
From the New York Times: An index, years later, of how deeply ingrained Mr. Featherstone’s creation had become could be found in the response his wife, Nancy, often got when she told people what he had invented.
“Someone did that?” came the reply, as if the bird, like its flesh-and-blood antecedent Phoenicopterus ruber was a product of Darwinian evolution.
Mr. Featherstone’s bird inflamed passions pro and con. In 2009, after a debate of five minutes, the Common Council, as the city council of Madison, Wis., is known, voted 15 to 4 to designate the pink plastic flamingo the city’s official bird.
Elsewhere, however, some homeowners’ associations banned the creature, deeming it a despoiler of property values.
*Asidenote: One of my very few regrets in life is that I recall turning down the opportunity in a London flea market to buy two flying ducks because there were only two. However, they were rare because they were flying right to left, against the flock.