Randall Gornowich, the crafty artist who created the 30-foot pink flamingo perched over 36th Street in Hampden, has returned to the big bird from time to time to play with its appearance. He once gave it a big blue Marge Simpson hairdo. Another time, he topped it with an Elvis toupee.
This week, Gornowich plans to modify the flamingo with the image of a tyrannosaurus rex — that is, a large, green shadow suggesting the bird’s evolutionary past. By Saturday, the eve of the mayor’s annual Christmas parade, Gornowich hopes to have his “flamingosaurus” or “tyrannomingo” — he is not sure what to call it yet — in place and fully lighted. He’s constructing the large dinosaur image from sheets of corrugated plastic and painting them in the studio behind his house on TV Hill.
You can hear my conversation with Gornowich in Episode 445 of the Roughly Speaking podcast.
The idea for the “flamingosaurus” came to him when Gornowich saw a neighbor painting her cement goose lawn ornament each holiday. She turned it red, white and blue for the Fourth of July, gave it a coat of kelly green and a leprechaun hat for St. Patrick’s Day. Why not bring the same seasonal whimsy to his most famous work of public art above Cafe Hon in Hampden?
But what, you ask, does a theropod-enhanced, 30-foot flamingo have to do with the holidays? How does that say Christmas in Baltimore? We don’t ask those kinds of questions around here. We just go with it.
Randall Gornowich is one of the city’s most inventive artists and ardent recyclers; you might call his work folksy-treasure-from-trash. When I first met him 25 years ago, he was creating art from found objects — discarded toys and appliances, for instance. Most memorable: A clock made from a metal ironing board. We auctioned it off for a good (but, alas, forgotten) cause during a telecast of my 1990s TV show, Rodricks For Breakfast.
In 2002, Gornowich made the original 36th Street flamingo — the subject, seven years later, of a brief but very public dispute between the owner of Cafe Hon and City Hall — from what he found in the trash: Pieces of plywood, bed sheets, tomato cages, latex paint and wood glue.
You might recall that, in 2012, Gornowich designed a poster from photos he shot of storm-barricaded Fells Point doors to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims in New Jersey.
Wednesday evening, when I visited Gornowich at his home and studio, I barely got out of the kitchen because there was so much to see there; you could spend a good while perusing the array of refrigerator magnets alone. On the wall was a clock made from a large plastic spider-like toy, with Superman action figures representing 12 and 6 on the dial, and each figure appeared to be zooming through crystalline mountains. Across the backyard, attached to the exterior wall of his studio, is a fine, old bathroom sink. “You call it a sink,” he says, “I call it a bird bath.”
A few years ago, Gornowich turned the spiky seed pods from American sweetgum trees into colorful magnets; he has thousands of them in his studio, and several on his refrigerator. In 2015, he attached hundreds to his minivan and drove it, with some awkwardness, to Artscape. “You don’t cover your minivan with those things and not have it affect the aerodynamics,” he says.
Look for the big green shadow of the Hampden flamingo’s ancient ancestor to make its first appearance with a lighting ceremony on Saturday night, Gornowich says. And you might even be able to pick up some merchandise adorned with his newest creation — mugs and a T-shirt. There will be a limited supply. If Gornowich sells out, ask about his sweet-gum magnets. He has crates full of them.