Mar 21, 2014 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
We love the graceful lines and colorful personality of American, modern collectibles. Russel Wright (1904-1976) is considered the founder of this cherished movement, focused on convenience and style. A Renaissance man, Wright was influenced by nature, craftsmanship, democracy, and innovation. His philosophy was driven by the beliefs that home life started at the dining table and that everyone was entitled to exceptional design. His products, ranging from furniture and home accessories to dinner ware, were mass produced and inexpensive.
Born in Ohio, Wright started his career between the wars when the consumer age found its initial footing. Strongly influenced by the Depression years, he realized people needed easy-to-care-for items that were well-made and brought them joy. That goal, combined with his problem solving talents, led him to establish what is considered the precursor to the industrial design profession. With his wife and chief marketer Mary Wright by his side, they took his designs to the public via stores and demonstrations. Using new plastics (like melamine), Wright paired stunning color combinations with clean shapes, producing charming bowls, plates, cups, and pitchers. Before long his signature and persona was known to middle class newlyweds nationwide. Eager couples scooped up his dinnerware collection made by Steubenville Pottery (with over 250 million pieces produced, it remains the most popular china ever manufactured), furniture by Conant Ball, or his spun metal pieces. With each purchase, Wright came one step closer to revamping the American home.
As the first American lifestyle brand, the Wrights took their philosophy of casual and contemporary living to the next level with the book “Guide to Easier Living.” Written in 1950, this handbook inspired people to not rely on wealth, but rather resourcefulness, in creating a unique and beautiful home environment. Beyond making modern sophistication accessible, he focused on bringing products in line with nature. This is perhaps best seen in his New York home, Dragon Rock. The residence and surrounding gardens became a thirty year project. The process allowed him to study lighting and details in a new way – enhancing his designs in other areas.
Russel Wright’s pioneering efforts paved the way for much of our modern outlook on design and lifestyle. The prolific nature of his work makes it relatively easy to welcome a Wright original piece into your home today – just look for the signature (which will be marked on every item he made). May his spirit of joy and sophistication inspire you for years to come!
For our readers: Do you have a Russel Wright piece – what do you love about it? When comparing Russel Wright to modern day lifestyle personas like Michael Graves or Martha Stewart, what do you feel are the distinctions? Do you think the new brands honor the focus on resourcefulness or focus on consumerism?