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Pink Flamingos and the Landscape of American Taste

What the iconic lawn ornament says about class and aesthetics.
Don Featherstone, creator of the original plastic pink flamingo, lies surrounded by many of his plastic creatures. Featherstone died Monday at the age of 79.
Don Featherstone, creator of the original plastic pink flamingo, lies surrounded by many of his plastic creatures. Featherstone died Monday at the age of 79. AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

When it comes to planning cities in America, we tend to think of beauty as subjective—which, as some philosophers argue, can result in development so ugly it’s bad for emotional and economic well-being. We reserve our taste judgments for something far more mundane: The suburban front lawn.

Consider the complex aesthetics of the plastic pink lawn flamingo. Its inventor, Donald Featherstone, died Monday at the age of 79. A sculptor by training, Featherstone created the plastic injection-molded flamingo as a 3-D product designer at Massachusetts’ Union Plastics in 1957, and they were an immediate hit. In a time when middle and working-class Americans increasingly found themselves in look-alike suburban tract houses, the pink flamingo was a stake of individuality in the ground, an assertion of aesthetic preference.