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History of the Plastic Pink Flamingo, Don Featherstone and Flamingo Flocking.

Don Featherstone hails from a small town in Massachusetts called Leominster.

Don was hired by a plastic molding company called Union Products where he created clay molds of several different animals that would be turned into plastic lawn ornaments.  These critters included cows, roosters, pigs, and more.  After studying a National Geographic’s magazine, Featherstone created what would become an American Icon, the plastic pink flamingo lawn ornament.

For almost 50 years, Union Products manufactured these pink birds. Several other companies tried to reproduce their own versions of pink flamingos in all different sizes, shapes and shades of pink. Sadly, due to increasing production costs, Union Products ceased all production and closed its doors for good.  Many flamingo fans feared the pink flamingo lawn ornament would become extinct.

Pretty in pink
Flamingos gave color to Leominster
By Diane C. Beaudoin
November 3, 2006

(Article found at the Leonminster Champion’s website.)

Nancy and Donald Featherstone, in matching flamingo shirts, hold their dog Smokey along with two of the original pink flamingos that have put Leominster on the map.

What do a duck, penguin, flowerpot, ostrich, cow, Santa Claus, and a turkey have in common? They are all closely related to the famous pink flamingo which has put Leominster on the map, all courtesy of their creator Donald Featherstone.

Don and Nancy Featherstone are observing a passing of an era with landmark Union Products now closing its doors. Union Products was the birthplace of the flamingos, and all their relatives.

Donald went to work for Union Products in the 1950s after years of art school.

“A friend of mine worked at the Worcester Art Museum. He got a call from Union Products asking if they knew anyone who could sculpt and design plastic items. They were making flat plastic ornaments at first and were looking to go three dimensional,” he recalled.

Don took the job after, “a great fear of starving to death. My friend said plastic places will prostitute my work and I’d make no money, but it was worth a try.”

The first items Union Products had him work on were a girl with a water can and a dog with a boy.

“They then asked me to work on a duck, so I went to buy a real duck to study. I named him Charlie. When I had the plastic duck done, set him free in Cogshall Park. They then asked me to do a flamingo,” he said.

“You can’t go locally and buy a flamingo, so I got some books, and one that had some good shots was National Geographic. I made the silhouette, then put on the clay and that’s how it all started.”

His creations included chickens, roosters, a cat that a dog had chased up a tree to name a few.

Don was then offered to be vice president of sales, something he knew nothing about. “I guess they figured I would make more things to sell, and in the end, I had created 750 different items,” he joked.

The Featherstones have no idea why the flamingos are the most famous of all the creations.

“Don made this great ostrich, with a smirk and all. The face is amazing, but it never caught on,” Nancy Featherstone said.

She proudly showed off the black and white ostrich, that with the back cut out could have been a planter. “He also did an entire line for each and every holiday,” she said.

The only reason for the flamingos’ popularity the Featherstones see is the tropical nature of the beast.

“It’s pink after all,” Don laughed.

The flamingo will turn 50 in 2007, he finds amazing.

“I think it’s great I’ve lived long enough to see my stuff in antique shops,” said the 71-year-old Fitchburg resident.

The Featherstones have also coauthored a book about the birds that have made them famous.

“We did a contest when the bird turned 40 years old for the most unusual, the funniest and the prettiest things people could do with their flamingos. We published the photos. Nancy did the captions and it was a lot of fun,” Don said. The book is titled, “The Original Pink Flamingos, Splendor on the Grass.”

The Featherstones dress in matching outfits that Nancy sews.

“We must have 40 or so flamingo outfits that she has made. Shirts, dresses, ties, doesn’t matter we’ve been dressing the same for over 28 years now,” Don laughed.

“Don has a very vivid imagination, he has the ability to see things cut down the middle. We’ve do everything together, so I figured why not dress alike, mostly in flamingos,” Nancy said.

The animals and characters Don has brought to life adorn their home inside and out, and it all makes the family happy.

“I loved what I did, it’s all happy things. You have to figure, my creations were not things people needed in life, we had to make them want them. Things I did made people happy, and that’s what life is all about,” he said.

Don said the flamingos can be considered tacky if used in tacky ways.

“They have been called very tacky, but more than not, they’ve been called fun,” he said. “I’ve received some very touching stories about the flamingos. One in particular was a woman who was very sick, and loved her flamingos. Every morning, her father would go outside the window of her room and move her flamingos around the yard. She would wake up every day to find where he had put them.

“We’ve had a request for a new set to be included in someone’s wake and funeral. The person loved their flamingos, so we went to the wake and there they were on the sides of the casket. The birds went to the cemetery with the flowers and stood at the grave site.”

The Featherstones see the flamingos as much a part of Leominster history as Johnny Appleseed.

“It’s amazing, we can go some where in the country and people find out we are from L e o m i n – ster and they know the flamingos. Who would have t h o u g h t something like that?” Don said.

Don retired from Union Products seven years ago, but sees his career with them as something fun. Union Products was founded in 1946, with the flamingo born in 1957.

“It actually went out to the public in 1958,” he recalled.

Both Featherstones have formed attachment to all of the lawn ornaments Don made over the years.

“You can’t help it,” Nancy said. “We would brainstorm on new products. When they would be done, they all had a personality.”

Reflecting on his career in the plastics industry, Don still cannot grasp the popularity of the pink leggy birds that people cannot seem to get enough of. “If I had known how popular they would become, I would have made more of them,” he said.

As for the future of the kitschy creatures, Don is not sure what will happen.

“I’ve heard the city wants someone to buy the mold and continue making the flamingos for fundraising,” he said. “They are part of Leominster, tacky or not.”