The Turner Story, Part II: The Artist - Pink Flamingos

The Turner Story, Part II: The Artist

Pictured above: Turner's lithographed Toran "Flamingos" and an undated photo of A.T. Toran.


This is the second in my two-part blog on the history of the iconic Turner Flamingos (read The Turner Story, Part I: The Company here). Again, to give full credit, this was written by my mom, Victoria Mayes, around 1980. In her pursuit to uncover the history behind the Turner Flamingos, Victoria connected with Germaine Toran, widow of Alfonso T. Toran, the artist of the original Flamingos. Through her letters of correspondence, which I now have, and likely also through phone conversations with Mrs. Toran, she put together the narrative that follows.


The Turner Story, Part II: The Artist

Turner was not the artist.

Since the mid-seventies, there has been a growing appreciation and demand for the extraordinary series of tropical bird pictures, which consisted of various groupings of flamingos, egrets, cockatoos and swans, first popular in the 1940’s. The series was published by one of the world’s largest decorative wall accessories manufacturers: Turner Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois.

Turner Manufacturing Company, Chicago, IL circa 1980
Turner Manufacturing Company, Chicago, IL circa 1980

During the Depression and years following, both art students and established artists were hired by publishing companies to create original art and subsequent adaptations to complement current furniture styles. Subtle sensuous and erotic nuances exuded from Deco period florals, native scenes, panthers and tropical bird subjects.

 V140-60 Birds, by Terone, original undated, 1979 greeting card reprint
V140-60 Birds, by Terone, Undated, 1980 Windmere Press Greeting Card Reprint


V143-75 Black Panther and Birds, Unknown Artist, Undated, 1980 Windmere Press Greeting Card Reprint
V143-75 Black Panther and Birds, Unknown Artist, Undated, 1980 Windmere Press Greeting Card Reprint

The earliest technique used in producing the art was air brush, then silkscreen with hand touches, then lithography to meet the increasing demand. Prominent artists signed their names backward, preferring to remain disconnected with this mass-produced art; in some cases, the name of the publishing company was signed in longhand to simulate an artist’s signature.


Turner signature in longhand on the Turner Flamingos print
Turner signature in longhand on the Turner Flamingos print


The name of the artist, whose tropical bird series became the biggest seller in the history of decorative wall accessories, was A. T. Toran. Born in Naples, Italy, on May 17, 1896, Mr. Toran was a painter most famous for his mural work in hotels Delmonaco, Pierre, New Yorker, Waldorf Astoria of New York, and the Chrysler Building and Massanutten Military Academy. He was a member of Hollywood Arts and Crafts Guild and Director of Creative Studios of Art and Decoration of New York. Mr. Toran met a tragic death in an automobile accident in 1965.

Turner Manufacturing Company also encountered an unhappy ending. After more than eighty successful years of business, the company was purchased by an international conglomerate in the early seventies, then suddenly closed March, 1980, with 350 loyal and skilled employees put out of work.

Turner Closing Letter, March 1980
Letter announcing the closure of Turner Manufacturing Company, March 1980

Pink Flamingos, Inc., of Sacramento, California, was fortunate in the acquisition of the Turner tropical bird series originals (8” x 10” oil on plywood) by A. T. Toran. Also purchased from Turner’s Chicago Vault were 60 other originals from the 1930’s and 1940’s, some never before published, yet with the unmistakable sensuous and erotic style of the highly collectible 40’s art.

Flamingos is the only surviving lithograph from the tropical bird series first produced by Turner Manufacturing Company in the 1940’s that had been kept by Turner. After years of searching, Pink Flamingos, Inc., found and purchased the last of a limited number of Flamingos from Turner’s Chicago Vault, where they had been carefully stored in brown paper for 30 years. Sources at Turner Manufacturing Company reported that most all other 40’s art had been purposely destroyed in the mid-seventies to make room for current, modern inventory.


Original Ad from Pink Flamingos, Inc., of Sacramento, California
Original Ad from Pink Flamingos, Inc., of Sacramento, California


The Turner Flamingos in their original brown paper packaging
The remaining vintage Turner Flamingos in original brown paper packaging


Ironically, the 40’s style had just begun to be recognized as highly collectible when most all Turner’s Deco art, save the Flamingos, had been destroyed.


Blogger's note: My parents had been in collaboration with another Turner enthusiast who was also pursuing authoring a Turner book, but it does not appear that that book was ever published. Amongst my parents' notes I found a few pages where they were brainstorming titles for a book on Turner and Toran. I wanted to include this tidbit as a fun peek into their creative process:

Flamingos by Turner’s Toran
Flamingos/Turner = Toran
Flamingos by Turner = Toran
Flamingos by Toran for Turner
Pink Flamingos: 40’s Art Reborn
40’s Flock Art
Pink Flamingos: the Story Behind the Turners
40’s Art Obscure Re-creation
40’s Pink Flamingos & Turner’s Toran
Pink Flamingos & Turner’s Toran
Birds Eye View of 40’s Art
Early Birds in 40’s Art
40’s Art: A Birds Eye View
40’s Art: For the Birds
40’s Art Re-Discovered
40’s Flamingos by Turner’s Toran
Some Obscure Artist
A. T. Toran: Distinct to Extinct
40’s Bird Art, etc.
40’s Bird Art by Toran for Turner
Bird Art of the 1940’s Rediscovered
40’s Bird Art Rebirth/Revealed/Reborn/Rediscovered
1940’s Bird Art Rehatched
Bird Art Rebirth of the 40’s
The Bird Man of the 1940’s
40’s Cheap Chirps
Flamingo Reflections on 40’s Bird Art
40’s Bird Art Rehatched

    I hope my sharing of this painstakingly gathered history has provided you with a deeper interest and connection to the iconic Flamingos print. Did you learn anything surprising? Please drop a comment below!

    Interested in owning a piece of this history? Follow this link to order one of our limited stock, authentic vintage Turner/Toran "Flamingos" prints.

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