As a designer at Union Products, Don Featherstone sculpted over 650 animals. But it was the flamingo that made him famous.
In 1957, Featherstone was just out of art school when he was hired at Union Products in Leominster, Massachusetts (about an hour west of Boston). His first creation was a duck. His second was the flamingo that would go on to become one of the most recognizable symbols of American kitsch and retro design. Without a real flamingo to use as a model, Featherstone drew inspiration from flamingo pictures in a copy of National Geographic.
Sold in pairs, Featherstone's pink flamingos were quickly adopted by RV enthusiasts. For years they've lounged under Airstream awnings and flocked to Airstream rallies across the country. After 30 years of producing millions of flamingos, plenty of knock-offs cropped up, and Union Products added Featherstone's signature to the flamingo body. Featherstone rose through the company, eventually becoming its president. He died in 2015.
When Union Products closed in 2006, production of the famous flamingos stopped. The original molds and copyrights were purchased by Cado Products, and today they continue to manufacture the Don Featherstone signature flamingos. Today you can own a piece of kitschy Americana – and decorate your campsite appropriately – with a set of Original Featherstone Pink Flamingos.
Why have these kitschy pieces of yard art generated so much love in the Airstream community? Possibly because they harken back to the retro style of the 50s when they were invented. It could have something to do with the fact that – like the timeless design of the classic Airstream travel trailer – the plastic flamingo design hasn’t changed in over half a century. Or maybe it’s simply because they remind us of warmth, sunshine, and vacations in tropical locations.