Russel Wright (1904- 1976) was an American Industrial Designer. His best-selling ceramic dinnerware is recognised for inspiring the broader public to appreciate contemporary design at the table. He considerably revolutionised the mood of the mid-century American house with his numerous other ranges of furniture, accessories, and fabrics.
Wright’s design philosophy was based on the idea that the table was the heart of the home. He developed everything from tableware to larger furniture, architecture to landscaping, all promoting comfortable, informal living. He influenced how many Americans lived and managed their homes in the mid-twentieth century through his hugely popular and widely distributed housewares and furniture.
Russel Wright Studios continues to licence and manufacture his ideas and products for corporate and public clientele.
Wright is best known for his bright American Modern design, produced at Steubenville Pottery in Steubenville, Ohio, between 1939 and 1959 and is the most commonly sold American ceramic dinnerware in history. Wright’s “American Modern” flatware designs for John Hull Cutlers Corporation in c. 1951 are another renowned design. He also created popular hardwood furniture, spun aluminium tableware and fabrics. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, his straightforward, practical style encouraged ordinary Americans to adopt Modernism. Wright’s signature was the first to be associated with lifestyle-oriented merchandise.
“Wright’s designs were characterized by their organic forms, innovative use of materials, and sensitivity to the needs of everyday living.”
Wright created several popular Melmac melamine resin plastic dinnerware lines for the home and conducted early research on Melmac plastic dinnerware for restaurant use.
In 1953, Northern Plastic Company of Boston, MA, produced Wright’s first Melmac line of plastic dinnerware for the home, dubbed “Residential.” In 1953, the Museum of Modern Art awarded “Residential” the Good Design Award. In 1957, “Residential” was also one of Melmac’s most successful lines, with gross sales exceeding $4 million. The line was popular for many years, and Home Decorators, Inc. of Newark, NY, continued to produce it.
In 1959, Wright debuted his Melmac “Flair” tableware series. The genuine leaves of the Chinese jade orchid tree are coloured and inserted inside the translucent plastic in one of “Flair’s” patterns, named “Ming Lace.” Wright began designing his Melmac in solid colours, similar to his ceramic dinnerware. Still, by the end of the 1950s, he had created many designs with decoration, most of which depicted plant forms.
From the early 1930s until the 1950s, Wright designed many popular furniture lines for various manufacturers. Between 1935 and 1939, the Conant-Ball firm of Gardner, Massachusetts, created his most successful line of essentially Art Deco American Modern “blonde” timber furniture, labelled “American Modern Built by Conant-Ball Co. Designed by Russel Wright.”
Wright collaborated on distinctive rustic furniture with Wright’s modern stylings with the Old Hickory Furniture Company in Martinsville, Indiana. The collection debuted in 1942, and several styles remained popular into the 1950s.
Russel had his early art training at the Art Academy of Cincinnati under Frank Duveneck while still in high school. He was a member of the Princeton Triangle Club. He won multiple Tiffany & Co. prizes for exceptional World War I memorial sculptures while following his family’s tradition of studying for a law career at Princeton University. This, combined with the encouragement of his Princeton academic adviser, reaffirmed his conviction that his future lay in art, which he had formed the year before college while studying at the Art Students League of New York under Kenneth Hayes Miller and Boardman Robinson.
The Art Students League of New York is a renowned art school founded in 1875. It offers a wide range of art programs and courses, including painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, and more. The league follows a studio-based approach and provides individual instruction to students of all skill levels. Many famous artists, such as Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keeffe, have been associated with the league. It has an open-door policy, allowing students to enroll at any time and study at their own pace. The league also hosts exhibitions and workshops, fostering artistic growth and community engagement. Located in New York City, it provides access to the vibrant art scene and numerous cultural resources.
Wright left Princeton for the New York City theatre scene, where he quickly rose through the ranks of Norman Bel Geddes’ set design team. Later collaborations with George Cukor, Lee Simonson, Robert Edmond Jones, and Rouben Mamoulian sprang from this early theatre connection. When George Cukor’s Rochester, New York stock company folded in 1927, his theatre career ended. He launched his design studio in New York City, manufacturing theatrical props and other decorative cast metal objects.
He spent the entirety of his professional artistic career in New York, employing such early instrumental modern design practitioners and artists as Petra Cabot, Henry P. Glass, and Hector Leonardi in his burgeoning industrial design firm, although deeply based in the Midwest.
Russel Wright retired to his 75-acre (300,000 m2) estate, Manitoga in Garrison, New York, after his wife’s death. He built Dragon Rock, an eco-sensitive Modernist residence and studio surrounded by enormous woodland gardens. Dragon Rock is made of wood, stone, and glass and has been dubbed “one of the country’s most idiosyncratic homes.” The location was developed by Wright, who created eleven woodland walking pathways. The property was developed by filling a quarry and rerouting a stream.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been declared a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior. The public can visit Manitoga, run by the non-profit Russel Wright Design Center, which offers tours and hiking paths.
Wikipedia contributors. (2021, July 4). Russel Wright. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:38, September 17, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Russel_Wright&oldid=1031928877
More on Industrial Design
You may also be interested in
Charles Eames, a distinguished American designer, filmmaker and architect, studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis in 1924. In the early 1930s, having worked in private practice, he received a fellowship in 1936 to study architecture and design at the Academy of Art in Cranbrook, which proved to be a valuable experience.