Russel Wright was born April 3, 1904 in Lebanon, Ohio of Quaker parents. His education was quite varied and played a large part in his work. He was a student at the Cincinnati Academy of Art, a law student at Princeton University, and a student at Columbia School of Architecture. He was also involved in stage and costume design.
In 1927 he married May Small Einstein who would help him in his work, as well as provide him social and financial contacts when it was most needed.
He was a designer in furniture, lamps, dinnerware, aluminum ware, glassware, and interiors. He is well-known for his dinnerware, American Modern, which was manufactured by the Steubenville Pottery Company from 1939 - 1959. It was available in a variety of solid colors.
He also helped popularize the bleached and blonde furniture. He had several contracts with manufactures. Some of them being Heywood-Wakefield (which was unsuccessful), Conant Ball Company, Old Hickory Furniture Co., Statton Furniture Company, and Sprague and Carlton.
Some of his early work in the mid-1930's was spun aluminum. The pieces included trays, vases, and teapots. It seems it may not have been accepted very well, in part because it tended to damage eeasily. But, that was then! Today, the market is quite different. It is a highly sought after line, probably because collectors are not able to find many of these pieces.
In the early 1930's Wright, along with his wife Mary, worked with wood serving items. The items were quite simple and were meant for informal settings. He abandoned his wood items for a time. Then, about three years later, he began a new line of wood products. He worked with a company named, "Klise Wood Working Company" of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The line was called "Oceana" and was a marine motif using various woods - cherry, gum, blonde maple, and hazlewood. The designs were derived from ocean plantlife and seashells. They were a loose respresentation of the seaworld. The "Oceana" pieces are now rare and are very special pieces.
Wright's Art Pottery was shortlived. It was an agreement made with Bauer Pottery that no matter what they seemed to do, would make it a success. There are many speculations as to what went wrong. Any pieces found now are considered great finds and are considered gallery pieces.
Wright was fascinated by a new product that was being tested by the American Cyanide Company. It was named "Melamine". After many legal battles, Wright was on his way to making a prototype set of "Meladur". By 1951, in an agreement with General American Transportation's Plastic Dinnerware Division, "Melmac" dinnerware was produced and marketed. Within two years, the public discovered they could not live without this new product.
In 1945, glassware entered in the world of Russel Wright. There were two companies, Century Metalcraft and American Crystal, who were involved in this new undertaking. For some unknown reason it is unclear as to whether any glassware was produced by either one of the companies. There is a proposed listing of pieces to be produced in existence. Therefore, it is assumed that some production did exist. A line of glassware was made by Bartlett Collins. It was for novelty glass tumblers. Wright's work can be seen in pieces produced by Martinsville Glass Company. In 1948, Paden City produced a line of glassware to be called "Snow Glass". In 1951, Imperial Glass Company introduced a glassware line to accompany "Iroquois Casual" Dinnerware.
And, surprisingly, Russel Wright designed fabrics! Linens in solid colors were made by Ellison and Spring for the "American Way" in 1940. They were to be used along with the "American Modern" dinnerware. Wright's largest contract for linens was with a company named Leacock. The cloths were in abstract designs, muted, but in his colors. Three other sets were included in the Leacock line. They were: Silver Lace, an Ivy pattern on lattice with backgrounds colors of pink, grey, aqua, clay taupe, and rasberry ice. A scroll pattern called Symbol with colors of Root Green, Endive, Earth Green, Pink Copper, brown, aqua, Turquoise, Chartreuse, and Grey. The third pattern, Bandana, was a red and white print. A compnay named Simtex made a line in 1950 called "Modern". It had a bold geometric pattern and worked well with the Leacock lines. In 1955 Simtex sold their plaid patterns to a company named Edson. They used the patterns in slipcovers and bedspreads. Wright continued with Edson to make chintz drapery fabric that was sold through Spiegal catalogs. Wright also worked with a company named Patchogue Mills which included a line of "summer rugs". They were made of sisal and fiber. Sizes included throw rugs and room sizes. Other companies Wright was associated with in making rugs, placemats, fabrics for draperies, slipcovers, and automobile seat coverings were: Waite Carpet Company, Tilbury Fabric Company, Comprehensive Fabrics Company, DuPont, Hedwin Corporation, and Aristocrat Leather Company.
Cutlery was another of Wright's ventures that was troubled with disagreements and arbitrations. Eventually, there were some sets made by Hull, National Silver, and possibly by The Englishtown Cutlery Company in 1947-1949. It is known that there were at least three stainless patterns by the association of Wright with Hull. National Silver was approached in 1954 and a prototype set was made and sold in silverplate by the Metropolitan Museum in New York in the 1980's. A sterling silver tea set was produced but only a few have been found.
Russel Wright received many awards, one of which was from the Museum of Modern Art in 1950 and 1953.
Some of the companies that used Russel Wright's work was Chase Brass and Copper, General Electric, Imperial Glass, Wurlitzer, National Silver Co., Shenango Pottery, and Steubenville Pottery. A major exhibition was held in Yonkers, New York at the Hudson River Museum and at the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 1983.
Russel Wright died in 1976.
PRODUCT LINES OF RUSSEL WRIGHT
White Clover (for Harker)
Official Price Guide to Pottery and Porcelain - 8th Ed. - Harvey Duke
Garage Sale and Flea Market Annual - 3rd Ed.
Warman's Americana & Collectibles - 8th Ed.
Schroeder's Antiques Price Guide - 18th Ed.
Kovel's Antiques & Collectibles Price List 1991 - 23rd Ed.
The Collector's Encyclopedia of Russel Wright Designs - Ann Kerr
The Houston Chronicle - Feb. 8, 2002, 2:17PM
"The power of Wright Midcentury designer's vision shapes modern home front" By Renee Kientz
The next Nancy's Collectibles Newsletter will feature Russel Wright Part II! It will cover descriptions and marks of many of his dinnerware, plastics, furniture, and spun aluminum.