Edmonton Journal

The creative genius behind those pink plastic flamingos

- MARK PRATT The Associated Press

BOSTON —Don Feathersto­ne was a classicall­y trained painter, a talented sculptor and artist who became famous for creating the pink plastic lawn flamingo — the ultimate piece of American suburban kitsch.

And it didn’t bother him a bit.

Feathersto­ne, who died Monday, June 22, at 79, embraced the fame the invention brought him.

He died at an elder care facility in Fitchburg, Mass., after a long battle with Lewy body dementia, his wife of 40 years, Nancy, told The Associated Press.

“He was the nicest guy in the world,” Nancy Feathersto­ne said. “He didn’t have a selfish bone in his body. He was funny and had a wonderful sense of humour and he made me so happy for 40 years.”

Feathersto­ne, who studied art at the Worcester Art Museum, created the ornamental flamingo in 1957 for plastics company Union Products Inc., modelling it after photos of the birds he saw in National Geographic.

Feathersto­ne worked at Union for 43 years, inventing hundreds of products in that time and rising to the position of president before his retirement in 1999.

“People say they’re tacky, but all great art began as tacky,” Feathersto­ne said in a 1997 interview.

He was forever humble about the flamingo, and in fact, his wife often brought it up in conversati­ons with people they would meet, bringing a sheepish smile from her husband, she said.

The flamingo even made an appearance on the silver screen. A pink flamingo, dubbed Feathersto­ne of course, was a major character in the 2011 animated movie Gnomeo & Juliet.

“The thing that thrilled him the most was that movie,” Nancy Feathersto­ne said.

“Humble” is how Marc Abrahams, editor the Annals of Improbable Research magazine, remembers Feathersto­ne.

The magazine hands out an annual spoof on the Nobel Prizes known as the Ig Nobels. Abrahams became good friends with Feathersto­ne after he won the Ig Nobel for art in 1996.

Feathersto­ne kept his real artistic talent under wraps to everyone except those closest to him, Abrahams said.

“He decided it would destroy the illusion and pleasure for people who knew him for the flamingo, so he only let those very close to him see his work,” he said.

The flamingo almost met its demise in 2006, when Union went out of business. But the company was eventually bought by Cado Products Inc., which to this day proudly manufactur­es the ornaments in Fitchburg.

“We still sell thousands of them a year,” said Cado presidentB­ruceZarozn­y.He’s not sure how many have been sold over the years, but it’s in the millions. “They say there are more plastic Feathersto­ne flamingos in the world than real flamingos,” he said.

 ?? AMY SANCETTA/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE ?? Don Feathersto­ne, pictured in 1998, embraced the fame the lawn flamingo brought him.
AMY SANCETTA/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE Don Feathersto­ne, pictured in 1998, embraced the fame the lawn flamingo brought him.

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