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Flamingos Market still in the Pink as Birds of a Featherstone turn 40

August 03, 1996|From Staff and Wire Reporters

One of the icons of the American landscape -- no, not the bald eagle or the bison, but the plastic pink flamingo -- is turning 40. And it's still not getting any respect.

Despite its enduring appeal (15 to 20 million in circulation) the lawn ornament forged in Leominster, Mass., can't seem to escape the T-word

"People say they're tacky, but all great art began as tacky," said Don Featherstone, the Union Products vice president and artist whose signature is molded in every flamingo body. "Art Deco in New York was torn down. But now, they're putting it back up."

Featherstone himself is a bit of a strange bird. A sculptor with a classical art background, he and his wife of 20 years dress alike every day. He attends many flamingo-themed social events sponsored by groups like the Society for the Preservation of the Plastic Lawn Flamingo.

His plastic company's catalog pictures page after page of adornments suited for any gardener's fancy: a 22-inch black-and-white penguin, a blue-headed pheasant, a green-chested rooster.

The first pink flamingo ornaments, in 1952, were flat, made of plywood. They were made of foam a few years later, but dogs tended to eat them. They've been made of plastic since 1957.

Some versions just didn't fly. A movable-leg model some years back was a flop.

Half a million of the birds move off store shelves in America, Mexico and South America every year, at $9.95 a pair. With numbers like that, Featherstone says he'll suffer the sarcasm. "As long as they keep buying them, I really don't care," he says with a smile.

Sit on It, Barbie

The doll with as many with as many personalities as outlets now has furniture befitting her icon status. For Astronaut Barbie, there's a video-empowered chaise with its own link to the Web. Party-girl Barbie could primp in the lap of her doll pal (a chair wickedly dubbed the "Kenstrument"). Queen Barbie might roost on a pink and purple throne.

There were just a few of the 415 entries in a "design the Perfest Chair for Barbie Competition" sponsored by Metropolis magazine, the Vitra Design Museum and Barbie Bazaar magazine.

After months of suspense, judges have selected a winner: a simple modernist chair with bobbing pastel pompoms for its back. The designer, Massashi Goto of Tokyo, was inspired by a photograph of girls playing in a field of waving flowers.

Spanish Inquisition

The architectural style that most defines our regional identity gets a warm embrace from writer Elmo Baca in "Romance of the Mission" (Gibbs Smith). The new book, made coffee-tableworthy by photographers Tim Street-Porter and Dominique Vorillon, traces all phases and facets Mission, lingering for pages inside the fortress-like facades of some of the Southland's most fashionable homes.

Their simple elegance--a happy marriage of the cultures of Spain, Mexico and North America--will put many readers in the mood to dump a houseful of knicknacks and overstuffed sofas for a fresh start with Gustav Stickley.

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