Fifty nine years ago, a young graduate of the Worcester Art Museum school sculpted a pink flamingo. Working from photos in a National Geographic magazine, Donald Featherstone created the now iconic masterpiece as his second assignment for his job at Union Products in Leominster, Mass.
On Monday, Featherstone passed away at the age of 79, one day shy of June 23, or Pink Flamingo Day.
In 2007, Leominster mayor Dean Mazzarella declared the holiday to mark the lawn ornament’s 50th anniversary, honoring the pink flamingo’s 1957 debut in the Plastics Capital of the World.
“Here in Leominster, it’s Pink Flamingo Day every day,” said Mayor Mazzarella. “But it’s just kind of ironic how within a day of his passing, it just so happens to be. He’d be thrilled.”
Mazzerella said the timing is poetic.
“He was a really kind and gentle guy. He could have a conversation about anything with anybody,” he said. “It’s sad. These are the icons and legends that we want to be around forever.”
The originator of America’s favorite front yard addition created a total of 750 pieces for Union Products and eventually went on to become the company’s president. He won a parody award, the Ig Nobel Prize, for his work on the pink flamingo in 1996.
Featherstone’s fake bird creation started out as a beautiful addition to the plain and identical yards of post-World War II suburbia, but eventually the pink flamingo came to define the word kitsch. The tacky, plastic fowl were shunned in the years following, and then made a comeback, inspiring John Waters’ Pink Flamingos.
Union Products stopped rolling out pink flamingos in 2005. Today, Cado Company in Fitchburg manufactures the birds. To avoid buying impostor flamingos, look out for Featherstone’s signature engraved on the flamingo’s tail end—this denotes the original version of the mold.
“He was just a really nice guy, never took himself seriously,” said Claude Chapdelaine, VP of Cado Company. “Throughout his career, he made all kinds of lawn and garden ornaments. A lot of people referred to them as being kind of kitsch. He said ‘You know what? It makes people laugh and brings a smile to everybody’s face’ and that’s what he liked.”
In 1986, Featherstone told People magazine he wasn’t sure who actually buys his flamingos.
“Some people are ashamed of them, so they put them in their backyards,” he said to the magazine. “I’ve heard there are some on Beacon Hill.”
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