Friday, May 22, 2009

Designer(s) of the Month: Mary and Russel Wright

Part 3: the objects

One of the things that I think make the Wrights such interesting designers is the way in which their designs and aesthetic grew and changed in relation to the times. Looking at the Wright's designs of the 1930s versus the 1950s, you can clearly see designers who were concerned about creating a product that would be both affordable and beautiful. As a result, the Wrights helped to create the concept of the industrial designer. As Diane H. Pilgrim explains in her essay "A Singular Artist," industrial design was "an American phenomenon that emerged during the 1920s. An industrial designer is known for designing everything, for being a problem solver, and for being able to design for mass production."[1]

Spun Aluminum Group, 1930s. Courtesy of The Russel Wright Design Center.

You can also see the ways in which the materials that the Wrights used changed in relation to the technology of the time. The spun aluminum designs of the 1930s were very much a reaction to the Depression: since spun aluminum was a cheap material to manufacture, and because it had a similar look to silver - a luxury item that people were no longer able to afford - creating a line of aluminum tableware was a natural choice. As Diane H. Pilgrim explains:

Russel Wright was very aware that the Depression had brought a totally different way of living, stripped of servants to polish the silver, handle the porcelain dishes with care, wash the clothes, serve the meals. His insight that Americans wanted homes that were well designed and easy to care for led him to produce a series of housewares and furnishings-wrought of easily maintained materials like solid wood, spun aluminum, stainless steel, earthenware, paper, and plastic-that made him a household name. [2]


Oceana Wood Line, 1935. Courtesy of The Russel Wright Design Center.

Pilgrim goes on to explain that, in addition to designing with technology in mind, the Wrights, and Russel in particular, were also naturalists. Russel Wright's design philosophy could be described as a cross between a Bauhaus social aesthetic and a dedication to the the craft element of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a particularly interesting position for someone who was an industrial designer - the "Russel Wright" label signifying comfortable and useful contemporary design to a large U.S. public - to be in.[3] As is evidenced by the Oceana wood line, and later by such designs as the Flair Ming plastic dinnerware, which utilized a process of laminating leaves between pieces of plastic, the Wrights believed that good design could, and should, take nature into account. Even the names of the colors of glazes used in the Wright's ceramic tableware, such as cedar green and glacier blue for American Modern and ripe apricot and parsley for Iroquois Casual, reflect both nature, and the Wright's continued commitment to selling the idea of a better, easier lifestyle to the American public.



American Modern Furniture, 1935. Courtesy of The Russel Wright Design Center.


American Modern Dinnerware, 1939. Courtesy of The Russel Wright Design Center.


American Modern Color Chart. Courtesy of xebrawerx.



Iroquois Casual Color Chart. Courtesy of xebrawerx.


Linen Tablecloths, 1950. Courtesy of The Russel Wright Design Center.


Easier Living Furniture, 1950. Courtesy of The Russel Wright Design Center.

Residential Plastic Dinnerware, 1953. Courtesy of The Russel Wright Design Center.


Flair Ming Plastic Dinnerware, 1959. Courtesy of Russel Wright Studios.

The Wright's greatest commercial success lay in their designs for mass-produced dinnerware and furniture, such as the Modern Living and American Modern designs, some of which are shown above.[4] As Harvey Green explains, "Characterized by smooth lines and, in the case of his ceramic dinnerwares, pastel colors, the goods were marketed as appropriate to the less formal and faster-paced lifestyle that Wright accurately had sensed to be central to middle-class American life."[5]

While there is so much more that can be said about the Wrights and their designs, I'm going to leave it at this for now. For anyone interested in further reading about the Wright's design legacy I highly recommend Russel Wright: Creating American Lifestyle, edited by Donald Albrecht, Robert Schonfeld, and Lindsay Stamm Shapiro. For more about 20th-century craft and design, Craft in the Machine Age: The History of Twentieth-Century American Craft, 1920-1945, edited by Janet Kardon, is an invaluable resource.

Next week, for my final discussion about Mary and Russel Wright, I’ll share some pictures of Manitoga, the home of The Russel Wright Design Center and the Wright’s amazing, nature-inspired home, Dragon Rock.




[1] Diane H. Pilgrim, “A Singular Artist.” From the Russel Wright Design Center website, http://www.russelwrightcenter.org/rwdesign.html.

[2] Diane H. Pilgrim, “A Singular Artist.” From the Russel Wright Design Center website, http://www.russelwrightcenter.org/rwdesign.html.

[3] Kate Carmel, "Against the Grain, Modern American Woodwork," from Craft in the Machine Age: The History of Twentieth-Century American Craft, 1920-1945, ed. Janet Kardon (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995), 85.

[4] Harvey Green, "The Promise and Peril of High Technology," from Craft in the Machine Age: The History of Twentieth-Century American Craft, 1920-1945, ed. Janet Kardon (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995), 40.

[5] Ibid., 40.

1 comment:

  1. Its looking fine, you can find more Contemporary Modern Dinnerware here…..

    ReplyDelete

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