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Russel Wright
(April 3, 1904 - December 21, 1976) U.S.A.

Russel Wright



Born in Lebanon, Ohio, his father encouraged him to study law at Princeton University. After his first year he spent the summer in the art colony in Woodstock N.Y. and left Princeton after having been offered a job at Norman Bell Geddes's studio as an assistant on the theatre sets for The Miracle.

In Woodstock he also met his future wife, aesthetic and commercial guide, Mary Small Einstein. He started producing masks and cast animal figures for Rosenthal's trend setting store in New York.

After President Hoover's refusal to participate in the 1925 'Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels' in Paris, he joined a group of American designers to visit the exhibition. Upon his return he designed radios for Wurlitzer and the first jukebox. Later he turned to furniture design for Haywood-Wakesfield and a collection of solid bleached maple furniture for Conant Ball (1935).

Wright was one of the most important Industrial Designers of this century, designing over 17 patterns of dinnerware, matching glassware and linens, furniture, art pottery, coffee makers, lamps, silverware, radios, rugs and curtains. His mixture of color and form made him one of the most successful American designers for the average homeowner. However, average is not what he delivered. The shapes were streamline.

Aluminum spun tableware with wooden handles was one of the other successful ventures coming out of his workshop on 53th street in N.Y.. In 1938 he started the design and mould making of a ceramic tableware collection. In spite Mary's and his own efforts they could not find a manufacturer until, in association with Irving Richards, they convinced the authorities to re-open the bankrupt factory "Steubenville Pottery" in Steubenville near East Liverpool Ohio.

Russel Wright's signature

Revolutionary by all the standards of the day, rimless plates, sweeping pitchers and free form serving pieces set the American dinnerware market on its ear. Wright had an unsurpassed eye for color. The colors were muted when alone, yet striking in combination. What would eventually lead to mobiles, amoebae shaped tables and boomerang Formica, began with a smart set of dishes in 1939.

In 1940, he started to produce his "American Modern" dinnerware and did so until 1961. The very sculptural but simple organic forms were the result of a tradition of restraint that was part of his Quaker upbringing and his education as a sculptor. The line was extremely successful. In an atempt to distance American functionalism from Suropean he launched in 1940 a project called "the American Way".

In 1944 he was one of the 14 founding members of SID (society of Industrial Designers) soon to become ASID which by merger with IDI and IDEA became the IDSA. He designed the first melamine tableware in 1949. It was produced by American Cyanamid, under the name Meladur, but never reached beyond the use in restaurants.

When the Northern Industrial Moulding Company in Boston produced his residential melamine dinnerware in 1953, it was widely accepted to the point where it almost became a generic product, produced by a multitude of manufacturers. The 1951 yearbook of the SID shows his first attempt to combine ceramics and glass in the same table setting. The pieces were produced by Paden City Glass - and the Paden City Pottery Company.

After Mary's death he was not only deprived from his major inspiration but became depressed and retired to build his new home "Dragon Rock" in Garrison N.Y.. He died in New York City.


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