- Museum number
- Series: American Modern
Pitcher; from group of 'American Modern' dinner-ware; earthenware, cast; in 'sea-foam' green glaze.
- Production date
1939-1959 (produced circa)
Height: 26.70 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- In set with 1988,0116.1
In set with 1988,0118.1-2
In set with 1989,0108.1-3
Text from J. Rudoe, 'Decorative Arts 1850-1950. A catalogue of the British Museum collection'. 2nd ed. no. 319.
Russel Wright trained as a theatrical designer with Norman Bel Geddes (see Decorative Arts 1850-1950, Cat. 113) in the 1920s before setting up his own studio for the design of furniture and other household products for retail sale in aluminium, chrome, ceramics and wood.
The designs for 'American Modern' were completed in 1937, but it took Wright two years to find a factory willing to undertake production. In order to overcome an initial lack of response, Wright mounted a huge advertising campaign, using his theatrical background to promote the service with radio interviews, appearances in stores, lectures and so on. Within two years the factory was unable to keep up with demand and over the next twenty years more than eighty million pieces of 'American Modern' dinnerware were produced, making it one of the most popular mass-produced patterns for informal dinnerware ever sold and the standard present for young brides in the early 1940s.
Its success lay not only in its unprecedented asymmetrical organic shapes but also in its equally unconventional colours, subtle and original shades which customers were encouraged to mix and match as desired. Wright worked with ceramic engineers at Alfred University, New York, to develop the glazes, which were very different from the bright primary colours used in Frederick Hurten Rhead's 'Fiestaware', another informal service. In his use of soft shapes without rims or hard angles, Wright was among the first to make the shift from Bauhaus-inspired geometries to more complex, biomorphic forms and himself acknowledged his esteem for the Surrealists (W.J. Hennessey, 'Russel Wright: American designer', Gallery Association of New York State, Cambridge, Mass. 1983, 38). For similar concern with organic form, see Eva Zeisel's 'Town and Country' dinnerware (Cat. 333-5).
For further discussion, see M. Greif, 'Depression Modern: The Thirties Style in America', New York 1975,172-3; Hennessey, 37-44; A. Kerr, 'Russel Wright Dinnerware: Designs for the American table', Paducah, Kentucky 1985, 34-44, Brooklyn 1986, The Brooklyn Museum, 'The Machine Age in America', 62.
Wright found that his simple and austere style was no longer appreciated in the 1950s. He closed his design office in 1958 and became an environmental consultant for developing countries and then for the National Parks Service [Industrial Design 23, March/April 1976, 46-51).
- On display (G48/dc6)
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number