There is a proud but tacit difference between “tacky” and “gaudy.” Gaudy is when you do something a little edgy, but people think you know what you’re doing and cut you a little slack; tacky is when you just don’t know any better, bless your heart!

Pink Flamingos

Pink flamingos: Do you love ’em or leave ’em?

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Car Henge, Nebraska

Just how did these cars get in this position?

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Watts Towers

Felder’s daughter visits Watts Towers.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Case in point is the ubiquitous plastic pink flamingo, which, in 2007, celebrated its 50th anniversary. Forget the antique concrete ones, the fine brass renditions and the huge Calder sculpture in downtown Chicago – it’s the plastic ones that have become America’s most loved-to-be-hated icon.

But art school graduate Don Featherstone, of Leominster, MA, who patented the first pair in 1957, put things in perspective, telling me that “before plastic, only the wealthy could afford poor taste.”

I mean, Louis XIV, who had Versailles built hundreds of years ago, included dozens of oversized naked goddess statues that could make Janet Jackson blush!

All my life I’ve pondered my own urge to “gaudy stuff up.” I’m a confirmed Dumpster® diver who drags home objets trouvé, to pair with other cast-off treasures into funky assemblages. Example: My great-grandmother’s claw-footed bathtub stands upright in a garden corner, festooned with antique glass doorknobs and mirror shards; the ersatz grotto houses my other granny’s concrete chicken.

I have come across hundreds of similar artistic expressions, some bizarre (Watts Towers in Los Angeles), campy (“Car Henge” on the plains of Nebraska) or just downright odd (Cadillac Ranch, outside Amarillo, TX). Only thing they have in common: an individual who had a vision, some time and a lot of junk to work with.

I often stop to chat up folks who have unabashed “yard shows” to look for clues. When asked what makes them “do their thing,” the answer is usually along the lines of, “It’s just in me, and it has to come out.”

A bejeweled yard can be a simple extension of the normal urge to arrange glass figurines in a kitchen window or to move coffee table tchotchkes to the patio. Or it can become an obsession, sometimes diagnosed as “dementia concretia” syndrome – a harmless but excessive compulsion to build unconventional structures, sculptures or figures using whatever materials are readily available (usually concrete, bottles, cans, scrap metal and other industrial and household junk).

Often the resulting creations are called folk or outsider art. While sometimes the larger ones occasionally are preserved as landmarks after the artist has passed on, often they are torn down, the spirit lost forever.

On a personal note, sometimes my wife makes me haul my creations back to wherever I found their original parts. (Says she’s keeping our garden from looking too crazy.)