Creator of Pink Plastic Flamingos Dies at 79

You may not recognize Donald Featherstone’s name, but you’re definitely familiar with his most famous work of art. Featherstone, who died on Monday at the age of 79 in Massachusetts, is the creator of the pink plastic flamingo, the earworm of lawn ornamentation. Although the tradition of staking the bright, hollow birds in yards is a tad inexplicable if you think about it too hard, his influence is undeniable; the lawns of pop culture are populated with many a pink flamingo. 

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

Don Featherstone sits surrounded by many of the plastic creatures at Union Products, Inc. Photo: Amy Sancetta/AP/Corbis

Featherstone worked in plastics, and designed the piece that will define his legacy in 1957 for Union Products. He was inspired by a picture he had seen in National Geographic. Featherstone ended his career as president of the company, and millions of flamingos dot the globe; the company that makes them says there are more plastic pink flamingos in the world than real ones. He created 750 other plastic products during his lifetime — including “chickens, roosters, a cat that a dog had chased up a tree,” and a black-and-white ostrich that could double as a planter — and won the 1996 Ig Nobel Prize — an honor “intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative.”

He and his wife, Nancy, who confirmed his death to the Associated Press, wore the same outfit every day for much of their marriage. She would sew her own clothing and then make a matching piece for Donald. Whenever she saw flamingo fabric, she would buy it; they had over 40 matching flamingo outfits, which were kept in a special closet. 

As we spend all our time together,” she wrote in the Guardian in 2013, “we always eat the same food, too, which is good because we have matching stains on our outfits.” The New York Times reported in 1997 that their outfits had only inspired “one unhappy encounter“: “Once, in New York, she and Donald were spotted in a department store by Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who smiled and seemed to want to talk. Not wanting to field any too-personal questions, they ducked her.”