Donald Featherstone, the trained sculptor who invented the pink lawn flamingo, died on Monday at the age of 79. CityLab used the occasion to look back at the history of the so-bad-it’s-good (and then bad and then good again) plastic bird.
The pink flamingo enjoyed instant popularity when it came on the scene in 1957, a phenomenon Featherstone tried to explain to Smithsonian Magazine in 2012. “You had to mark your house somehow,” he said. “A woman could pick up a flamingo at the store and come home with a piece of tropical elegance under her arm to change her humdrum house.”
But one person’s “tropical elegance” was another (wealthier) person’s tacky hunk of plastic. Then, along came pop art in the ’60s to transform the tacky and mass-produced into chic and expensive.
The avian ornament was taken head-on in Baltimore filmmaker John Waters’ 1972 Pink Flamingos, which confirmed its trashiness, perhaps even augmented it, but celebrated it anyway.
Waters’ status as a pretty much universally celebrated Baltimore icon may have turned the pink flamingo into a permanent, harmless in-joke locally. Elsewhere, its cultural value is all over the place.
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