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Russel Wright

Updated on March 23, 2019
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I am a vintage junkie , author of Melmac Central and run the Living a Vintage Life podcast.

Who was Russel Wright?

Russel Wright was an American Industrial Designer from Ohio, born in 1904. He died in 1976 at the age of 72. He was married to Mary Wright, (also a designer) whose death preceded his. They had one daughter named Annie.

Russel's award winning work as an industrial designer encompassed a broad spectrum of housewares including furniture, wood, aluminum, ceramics, textiles, glass, and melamine plastics (just to name a few) which have left a huge impression on the Mid Century Modern movement.

His earliest work may be traced back to designing furniture in 1934, including his notable work for Heywood-Wakefield, (the first sectional sofa, which would soon be followed by his maple line of furniture called Modern Living, made by Conant Ball Company just a year later. Stores like Macy's and Bloomingdale's would be instrumental in promoting Wright into a household name. Wright would soon have a showroom in New York City with help of (business associate/industrial designer) Irving Richards (of Raymor). Years later Russel Wright Associates would be a household name, a design team employed by Wright who represented Russel's many works in progress at all times. All the original files sit in Syracuse, showing samples and rough drafts of project work over the years.

Over the course of his time as an industrial designer, aside from making award winning household goods, Wright was also a consultant on special projects, such as World's Fair exhibits. He was hired for special studies such as consulting work on the reintroduction of plastic (melamine) dinnerware industry by American Cyanamid's then-president George Bell in the forties. He was also hired as an overseas liason by the US Government to increase the import and sales of handicraft in the USA. Some of these travels abroad highly influenced his later work.

Though early on Wright spend most of his time in busy New York City with Mary, in his later years he would purchase his legendary home "Manitoga". Perhaps his greatest design accomplishment was that of his own house, built with nature in mind, actually built into the "Rock" dubbed Dragon Rock" . Manitoga is now on the register of historic places. Manitoga is open for tours, special exhibits, and fundraisers.

Wright's work has been featured in exhibits and fields of study all over, many pieces belong to permanent collections in MOMA and other notable museums.

There are so many accomplishments, they cannot all be featured here, but this is just a small giimpse of the designer's work.

The whole "mid century modern" movement would not be complete with the work of Russel Wright. There is a huge variety of collectors who revel in having his work in their private collections. With so much to choose from, you may have one collector specializing in his ceramics, one in his furniture, and another in his melamine dinnerware. A series of collectible books dubbed the Russel Wright Collector's Encyclopedias by (the late) Ann Kerr paved the way to the collectible value in Wright's work.

Thanks to Russel Wright Studios, LLC, some of his designs live on today as in reproductions, and will surely breed a new movement of collectors in the near future.

Photo: Vintage Russel Wright Steubenville Cream and Sugar Plates in Seafoam Green Blue, Courtesy of Domus Modern on Etsy.

A Set of Russel Wright shows an American Modern 14 pc Coral Set (Vintage) For $115 shows an American Modern 14 pc Coral Set (Vintage) For $115 | Source

American Modern : Best Selling Dinnerware

Perhaps one could argue that Russel Wright is best known for his colorful ceramic American Modern dinnerware produced by Steubenville Pottery Company in Steubenville, Ohio. It was indeed the most widely sold American ceramic dinnerware in history, manufactured between 1939 and 1959. What collectors may realize that the public does not, is that this line hit unprecedented sales numbers for this period in history. As well, Wright had his own melamine lines competing against it in the 1950s. Therefore, it is a truly amazing accomplishment of any designer of this period.

The American Modern of today, is being reproduced by Bauer Pottery company with permission from Russel Wright Studios, LLC.

HK Designs shows this gorgeous SPUN ALUMINUM SET
HK Designs shows this gorgeous SPUN ALUMINUM SET | Source

Russel Wright Products Live On

WIth Help from Russel Wright Studios

Russel Wright Studios, LLC has done a great job keeping Russel Wright's award winning designs alive today. They work with companies who wish to reproduce or license the Russel Wright designs. Currently, you will find reproductions of:

Spun Aluminum - Made exclusively by HKDesigns of Pennsylvania. Each piece is stamped and finished the way the originals were. A portion of proceeds from each sale goes to help Manitoga and Dragon Rock. Find the links below.

American Modern - Still being produced by Bauer Pottery today. Originally American Modern was produced by a company called Steubenville Pottery (Steubenville, Ohio) - now defunct. Although Wright worked with Bauer on other projects, it only seems right that Bauer of today continues to produce his award winning designs of yesteryear. Find out more on the links below.

Residential Melamine - Originally produced at the Northern Industrial Chemical Company of Boston, this melmac dinnerware is expected to make a comeback in 2012 thanks to designer Michele Yeeles, (Bob's Your Uncle) who worked closely with Annie Wright and Russel Wright Studios to being the melmac back! See links below.

In the past, other Russel Wright items have been reproduced such as dinnerware by Oneida. Although some products are short lived, or may only be reproduced in certain colors, all have collectors talking.

Russel Wright Link List

All you ever needed here in one place.

Vintage RW Pink Residential Melamine

Vintage RW Pink Residential Melamine at
Vintage RW Pink Residential Melamine at | Source

Russel Wright Samsonite Chair by

Russel Wright Samsonite Chair by
Russel Wright Samsonite Chair by | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer


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