December 1, 2021

Humble pink flamingos are socially aware

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Jenniferleigh Clune of Homer next to her latest flamingo yard vignette on introspection.

Jenniferleigh Clune used to think plastic pink flamingos were just flashy lawn ornaments.

Now she has a flock of 10. They’ve become a social statement and creative outlet on the lawn of her home on North Main Street, Homer, a new display every six to 10 weeks.

“I enjoy the creative aspect,” said Clune, a nurse practitioner and Homer Center Players actress.

Clune saw the movie, “Gnomeo and Juliet” when her kids were younger. She’s into Shakepeare and enjoyed the play on “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I forget when it came out,” Clune said Monday.

“2011,” said her daughter, Kaitlyn June, a college student who had her cell phone handy for research.

“It’s cute. My kids loved it. In it there’s a character, Mr. Featherstone, a one-legged pink flamingo,” said Jenniferleigh Clune.

Then she heard a National Public Radio report that Mr. Featherstone, Don Featherstone of Leominster, Mass., was the actual person who invented the pink flamingo.

“He passed in 2015,” Clune said.

Featherstone created the plastic pink flamingo in 1957. He worked at Union Products and the flamingo was one of 750 items he created for the company, according to the Massachusetts newspaper,

When Clune found an original Featherstone pink flamingo in an antique booth at the Homer Winterfest, it was all over.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

The original Mr. Featherstone flamingo started it all for Jenniferleigh Clune. She bought this at the Homer Winterfest.

She acquired a couple more flamingos and had a “family” and started posing them in the yard.

For the last four years, she’s collected flamingos and now has a flock of 10, all the while creating scene vignettes with them.

When the Black Lives Matter march took place past her house in June, her pink flamingos were laying on the ground, just like Black man George Floyd, killed during a May 25 arrest in Minneapolis, when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes, suffocating him.

The videotaped incident sparked a nationwide movement on racial injustice. Clune’s flamingos were among an “I can’t breathe” sign.

She promoted reading by gathering the flamingos around the “Read to Me” Cortland Reading Partnership sign, as if they were a family reading a book.

In March, she did a 6-feet apart flamingo installation to emphasize social distancing.
Now she’s got her flock settled and quiet, next to a swirling circle made by painted rocks, like a meditation wheel.

It’s a symbol of looking inward — “Reflection,” she said. “I think that’s what we are all doing now.”

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Flamingos look inward, in pandemic times.

“It’s all art with common things. That’s what I like about it. It’s simple.”

“Jenniferleigh Clune is one of the most creative and organized people I know and that is a rare thing among creatives,” said Jim Coon of Cortland, a graphic designer and artist. He also directs the annual Chiller Haunted House at Halloween.

“I met her while doing a show at the Center for the Arts and she has now become one of my best friends. Last year, when I was diagnosed with diabetes she stepped in and took the reins of the Chiller Haunted House making sure that things were organized … along with creating several of the scenarios and vignettes in the haunt itself. She also made sure that I was staying healthy physically and mentally.”

Charlie Spina, a neighbor, drove up to drop off two plants to Clune. Asked about the flamingo display:

“You need a big, big, one,” he said. “Did you ever see the Tampa Airport flamingo? The head is gigantic.”

Kaitlyn June promptly pulled up an image of the massive statue on her cellphone.

Clune’s next idea is to place a bucket of stones next to the flamingos and invite passers-by to create their own installation. If they photograph it and message the Clunes, they will post it to an Instagram account, whatsupfeatherstone, created by Kaitlyn June, a musical theater major.

“I am her social media manager,” Kaitlyn June said.

“I first noticed the flamingoes when I was walking in front of the house on the day of the Black Lives Matter march in Homer,” said Kim Allen of Homer. “They were all in a line symbolically lying on the sides of their faces. The meaning clear, the display stopped me, made me pause and reflect. Since then, I always look for them on my walks to see what they are doing. I know there will always be a message.”

Kaitlyn June Clune said she’s looked all over the internet to see if anyone else is making pink flamingo art. She hasn’t found anyone.

Clune knows of a neighbor with a few silver flamingos. Another has a flamingo and a bluebird metal sculpture. She knew of the Tompkins Street, Cortlandville, metal flamingos.

“And I know of ‘You’ve Been Flocked’ fundraisers, where people awake to find a flock of flamingos on their lawn, and they pay a fee to the charity to get rid of them,” she said.

Flamingos are out there. But they are not necessarily making a statement on the lawn.

A couple of zombie flamingos lurk the basement, Clune said. “Those come out at Halloween.