Monday, October 23, 2006

RIP: Pink Flamingo, 1957-2006

From the Sun-Sentinel:
The pink plastic flamingo, a Florida-inspired icon that has been reviled as kitschy bad taste and revered as retro cool, is dead at age 49.

The pop culture symbol met its demise after its manufacturer, Union Products, of Leominster, Mass., was socked with a triple economic threat -- increases in costs of electricity and plastic resin combined with loss of financing. Production ended in June, and the plant is scheduled to close Nov. 1, according to president and CEO Dennis Plante...

Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, paid tribute to the infamous bird that has been immortalized everywhere -- from the John Waters' movie Pink Flamingos, to bachelor parties and lawns across America.

"Let's face it," he said. "As iconic emblems of kitsch, there are two pillars of cheesy, campiness in the American pantheon. One is the velvet Elvis. The other is the pink flamingo."

The birth of the plastic pink flamingo in 1957 coincided with the booming interest in Florida, Thompson said, making it possible for those in other parts of the country to have a little piece of the Sunshine State's mystique in their yard.

By the late '70s, according to Thompson, the pink flamingo became a symbol of bad taste. It was considered trash culture and embraced by folks with a wise-guy attitude. They knew better (wink, wink) but embraced the iconic symbol anyway.

By the late '80s and early '90s, he said we learned to make fun of pop culture items such as the pink flamingo as well as appreciate them.

"The pink flamingo has gone from a piece of the Florida boom and Florida exotica to being a symbol of trash culture to now becoming a combination of all we know -- kitsch, history, simplicity and elegance," Thompson said.

Useless Information provides a little history about the birth of the Pink Flamingo:
The history of the pink flamingo can be traced back to 1946 when a company called Union Products started manufacturing “Plastics for the Lawn”. Their collection included dogs, ducks, frogs, and even a flamingo. But their products had one problem: They were only two-dimensional.

In 1956, the Leominster, Massachusetts company decided to hire a young designer named Don Featherstone. Although Don was a serious sculptor and classical art student, his first project was to redesign their popular duck into the third dimension. (One must do what they can to pay the bills.) Don used a live duck as his model and after five months of work, the duck was retired to a local park.

His next project would prove to be his most famous. He couldn't get his hands on real flamingos, so he used photographs from a National Geographic in its place. He sculpted the original out of clay, which was then used to make a plaster cast. The plaster cast, in turn, was used to form the molds for the plastic. The original design called for detailed wooden legs, but they proved to be too costly and were replaced by the metal ones still seen today. While the exact date was never recorded, the first pink flamingo was born some time during 1957.
For a delightfully weird retrospective view the short film: The Pink Flamingo: The Ambassador of the American Lawn.

Get your own genuine Don Featherstone designed plastic pink flamingos at GetFlocked before they are gone forever!

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