Monday, October 30, 2006

The Demise Of An Entire Species

The original version of the plastic flamingo may be singing its swan song after inspiring countless pranks - and being alternately celebrated as a tribute to one of nature's most graceful creatures and derided as the epitome of American pop culture kitsch.

Union Products Inc. stopped producing flamingos and other lawn ornaments at its Leominster factory in June, and is going out of business Wednesday - a victim of rising expenses for plastic resin and electricity, as well as financing problems.

The small privately held firm has been in talks with a pair of rival lawn ornament makers interested in buying the molds and resuming production of the flamingos, designed in 1957 by local son Don Featherstone.

"We think the flamingo will go on," Keith Marshall, Union Products' chief financial officer, said at the company's aging brick factory, where just a few years ago more than 100 employees churned out flamingos by the millions.

Featherstone, who wrote a 1999 book about his creation called "Pink Flamingos: Splendor on the Grass," studied art before Union Products hired him in 1956 to expand a line of lawn ornaments that consisted of two-dimensional renderings of animals. Featherstone sculpted his 3-D flamingos from clay, working from photos of the birds in National Geographic.

The ornaments hit the market in the late 1950s when the color pink was in vogue, and America's exploding population of suburbanites sought to add flair to their lawns, said Kevin McCarthy, a retired University of Florida professor and author of several books on Florida's history and culture.

But the birds also came to symbolize bad taste. They became the namesake of the 1972 John Waters film "Pink Flamingos," an epic to excess that celebrated a wide range of perversions. Some residential developments even banned flamingo ornaments.


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