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White Gray Black

Russel Wright (American, 1904–1976)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American designer. He took summer painting courses at the Cincinnati Academy of Art and in 1920 moved to New York to study sculpture at the Art Students League. He studied law at Princeton University, NJ (1921–4), but was chiefly interested in stage and prop design for college plays. He spent weekends in New York working on theatre projects with Norman Bel Geddes and in 1924 abandoned university for a career in theatre design. In 1927 he married Mary Small Einstein (d 1952), who became his business manager and the driving force behind his subsequent success. In 1930 he established a workshop in New York, making stage props and whimsical objects for speciality shops, including small animals hand-cut from aluminium sheet. He soon progressed to designing all manner of metal and ceramic objects for the home, influenced by Bauhaus ideas for functional design, although his simple, rounded forms were entirely his own. Similar to such contemporaries as Walter Dorwin Teague, Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfuss (1904–72), he championed an American approach to design, free from mannerisms and appealing to use. He created bar accessories, ice buckets, beer pitchers and bowls from spun aluminium, a metal he thought suitably democratic, and after 1932 introduced aluminium oven-to-tableware, the dishes, coffee pots and casseroles embellished with rattan frames, cork bases and wood or cane handles (e.g. coffee urn, spun aluminium and wood, c. 1935; Paul F. Walter priv. col., see Wilson, Pilgrim and Tashjian, p. 335). In 1934 his work was included in the landmark Machine Art exhibition at MOMA, New York, and the same year he presented his first collection of coordinated furniture, made by the Heywood-Wakefield Co., Gardner, MA. It was followed in 1935 by his rectilinear ‘American Modern’ range, built from solid, naturally finished maple-wood and mass-produced by the Conant Ball Co., Gardner, for which Mary Wright coined the now-familiar term ‘blonde’. In 1937 he designed his popular ‘American Modern’ ceramic dinnerware, with its organic, tapering forms and prominent spouts and lips to teapots and jugs (e.g. selection of ‘American Modern’ tableware, c. 1939–59; London, V&A), which was produced from 1939 by the Steubenville Pottery, East Liverpool, OH. Over the next two decades he was engaged in the design of everything from flatware to the first usable plastic tableware to textiles to interiors. In 1955, three years after the death of his wife, he abandoned his New York practice for a working retirement at Dragon Rock, his showpiece home near Garrison, NY (built 1941–61). In 1958 he travelled extensively in South-east Asia as a consultant for the US government, on a cooperative plan to aid in the export to the USA of selected East Asian crafts.


From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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