By Donald Albrecht, Adjunct Curator for Special Projects
"Russel Wright: Creating American Lifestyle"
Robert Schonfeld, Co-Curator
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Russel Wright revolutionized the American home and the way people lived there. His inexpensive, mass produced dinnerware, furniture, appliances, and textiles were not only visually and technically innovative, but were also the tools to achieve his concept of "easier living," a unique American lifestyle that was gracious yet contemporary and informal.
Wright conceived the domestic environment broadly, designing in layers from the very core of home life-the table-outward toward furnishings, interiors, architecture and landscape. From his earliest line, Informal Serving Accessories, through American Modern, postwar Iroquois Casual China, innovative plastic dishes including Flair, and Dragon Rock and Manitoga, Wright's final home and surrounding landscape, his work sought to improve people's everyday lives. Collaborating with his wife Mary Wright, the team's marketing genius and his partner in conceiving their "easier living" philosophy, Russel disseminated his designs and ideas in exhibitions, books, articles, advertisements, radio interviews, and demonstration rooms in department stores. In all these enterprises, Russel and Mary converted his name and signature into a recognizable trademark on a par with major manufacturers. They invented lifestyle marketing centered on a compelling persona, paving the way for such lifestyle interpreters as Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren. Wright's unique contribution to mid-century modernism embraced American traditions of practicality and simplicity, as well as new materials and technologies. Drawing on sources as diverse as Colonial America, Surrealist art, and Frank Lloyd Wright, Russel Wright forged an American vocabulary of form and function, and more than any other designer, shifted the nation's taste toward the modern beginning in the late 1920s.
Central to the Wrights' efforts to revolutionize the home was "Guide to Easier Living", the best-selling book they co-authored in 1950. It offered readers a declaration of independence from convention, rejecting the dogma of "etiquette despots" like Emily Post. Defining the way Americans live even today, Russel and Mary Wright wrote, "Good informal living substitutes a little headwork for a lot of legwork. It doesn't need wealth, but it does take thought, some ingenuity and resourcefulness, and more than a little loving care to create a home that is really your own."