To begin with, who was Russel Wright?

RW Family with Ann and Mary

Russel and Mary Wright with daughter Annie. ca 1951 (photo credit: unknown photographer, courtesy Manitoga, Inc.)

Russel Wright (1904-1976) was an American designer whose designs appear in the permanent collections of  MOMACooper-Hewitt, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wright is often thought of as one of the first industrial designers and was active in the field from the 1920-1960s. By 1958, his American Modern dinnerware line  had sold over 250 million pieces.[1]

RW at desk

Russel Wright in his NYC Studio (photo credit: photographer unknown, courtesy Manitoga, Inc.)

While Wright may be remembered for his tableware, his work stretched beyond the bounds of one product or one line. He and his wife/business partner Mary Wright applied design to an entire lifestyle, paving the road for the likes of Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren.[2] The Wrights’ approach was collected in their book, “Guide to Easier Living,” which was published in 1950 and aimed to simplify and de-formalize life for the post-WWII American household.

RW and MW unbreakable dishware

Russel and Mary Wright during a department store demonstration of their unbreakable tableware in the late 1940s (photo credit: photographer unknown, courtesy Manitoga, Inc.)

After Mary Wright died in 1952, Wright turned his attention to designing a home near Garrison, NY. Far from the world of manufactured housewares, the project was an individualized setting that interacted with the surrounding 75-acre grounds. The interior of the home became a laboratory for experimenting with new materials and integrating them into natural elements. Wright named the home, “Manitoga,” meaning a place of “Great Spirit” in the Algonquin language.[3] He conceived the home not as a prototype but as an example of how a home could be personalize by design.[4] Manitoga Inc. is the non-profit organization that assumes stewardship of Wright’s home, studio and 75-acre woodland garden.

RW in short shorts construction

Russel Wright (on left) working on stone terraces and steps at Manitoga ca 1960 (photo credit: photographer unknown, courtesy Manitoga, Inc.)

Wright’s designs still live with us today. Select pieces from his American Modern design continue to be produced by Bauer Pottery and his daughter Annie manages the licensing of his work through Russel Wright Studios. However, there are many aspects of Wright’s work that are ripe for more exploration, hence the call for a Return to Manitoga.


[1] Russel Wright, Dianne H. Pilgrim, Malcolm Holzman, and Ian L. McHarg. Russel Wright, Good Design Is for Everyone, in His Own Words (New York, NY: Manitoga Inc., 2001), 25.

[3] Russel Wright, Dianne H. Pilgrim, Malcolm Holzman, and Ian L. McHarg. Russel Wright, Good Design Is for Everyone, in His Own Words (New York, NY: Manitoga Inc., 2001), 14.

[4] Leslie Williamson. Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Mid-Century Designers (New York, NY: Rizzoli, 2010).

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2 thoughts on “To begin with, who was Russel Wright?

  1. Nice start. I think some photos of his work would add a great deal to his/their work. In addition, photos of him and his wife Mary would add a personal touch.

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