Honorary Unsubscribe

Randy Cassingham’s Honorary Unsubscribe Recognizes the Unknown, the Forgotten and the Often Obscure People who Had an Impact on Our Lives.
These are the people you will wish you had known.

Birdmaker

Don Featherstone

An artist and designer from Worcester, Mass., in 1957, a week after graduating from art school, Featherstone took a job at Union Products, a plastics company in nearby Leominster. His first assignment was to design a duck, so he bought a real duck from a farm and studied it. The resulting plastic model sold well, so Union suggested he next do a flamingo. He used a well-illustrated article in National Geographic as his model, and created a pair — a male and female. Maybe the duck sold well, but the pink plastic flamingos ignited a craze. “Place in garden, lawn, to beautify landscape,” said Sears in its 1957 catalog, where a pair cost $2.76. People either loved them or hated them, but the people who loved them bought millions, as a lawn ornament. The Phoenicopterus ruber plasticus (as he dubbed them) defined kitsch, “unlikely fixtures of a certain kind of high-end sensibility, a shorthand for tongue-in-cheek tackiness,” says Smithsonian magazine. Why were they so popular, especially in tropical areas such as Florida? “I wish the hell I knew,” Featherstone said 40 years later, “because I’d do it again.” By then, Featherstone was president of the company, and noted how ingrained his flamingo was in culture: “I’ve never seen a wedding cake with a duck on it!” In more than four decades at the company he designed 600 more plastic ornaments, and many of those products actually sold better than the flamingos, but the pink bird is the most famous. By the time the company shut down in 2006, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles had begun selling Featherstone’s flamingos in its gift shop. But don’t fret about the company’s closure: another Massachusetts company bought the molds and copyright, and production of the birds continues. Featherstone died June 22 from Lewy body dementia. He was 79.

Union Pink Flamingos

From This is True for 28 June 2015


Honorary Unsubscribe Books

HU BooksThe Early Writeups from This is True's popular Honorary Unsubscribe feature are now available for your Kindle (or Kindle software for your smartphone, tablet, or computer) as low-cost ebooks.

See details on Volume 1 (covering 1998 through 2000), Volume 2 (2001 through 2003), Volume 3 (2004 through 2006), and Volume 4 (2007 through 2009).

The honorees truly are the people you wish you had known.

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