Modernism for the Masses
American Modern water pitchers, 1939, produced by Steubenville Pottery.
While many of us may think of Martha Stewart or Ralph Lauren as the gurus of brand marketing—using their names to popularize their home designs or products as a lifestyle—there was someone who used this innovation before them. It was Russel Wright, an industrial designer who in his heydays of the 1930s, ’40s and ‘50s designed items for the home that were functional and fashionable. His creations—dinnerware, flatware, appliances, furniture and textiles—were also made to be affordable, bringing good design to the masses. Wright, who collaborated with his wife Mary, made his name synonymous with his products, which were characterized by their simple lines and use of easily maintained materials, such as plastic, stainless steel, wood, spun aluminum and earthenware. His lines include American Modern, Iroquois Casual China, Flair and Dragon Rock, which are now red-hot for collectors.
While you could check out eBay or Google Wright to see more of his designs, we recommend going to the Newcomb Art Gallery, which is exhibiting “Russel Wright: Living with Good Design” until April 8. It’s no surprise that Target, which sells products by noted designers at inexpensive prices, is the exhibit’s sponsor, thereby promoting Wright’s philosophy of “good design is for everyone.”
Photo by Masca, courtesy of Manitoga, Inc./Russel Wright Design Center