A Mid-century Beacon
for “Better Living”

Mary Wright's Influence on Modern Design and Branding

Mary Wright was the wife of American designer Russel Wright, daughter of a textile magnate and the niece of Albert Einstein. She was also an artist and designer in her own right and the driving force behind the success of Russel Wright's designs. Considered a marketing savant, Mary Wright was revolutionary in building one of the first "lifestyle brands," fitting Russel Wright's products into the emerging market of items that made consumers' lives easier and stylish design more accessible. She handled the business side of the company, traveled around the country to department stores promoting the designs, came up with names, colors and marketing campaigns and even coined the term "blonde wood" to describe Russel's furniture. With the help of Mary's brilliant capacity in navigating the industry, Russel Wright's chrome cocktail accessories and melamine and china dinnerware became icons of mid-century American design, as well as the best-selling products of the era—over 250 million pieces of china were sold between 1939 and 1959. 

A store display advertising Mary & Russel Wright's Guide to Easier Living, 1950

Mary and Russel Wright show the durability of Iroquois china, c. 1945.

The present lot is a design that Mary Wright created in 1940 for The American Way cooperative marketing program that she and Russel organized, bringing together sixty-five designers to create affordable and attractive everyday objects. The collection debuted at Macy's New York store and was introduced by Eleanor Roosevelt. Russel created a similar dish for the project, but in maple, while Mary named her collection of small wooden dishes "Frosted Oak". The organic and irregular forms were inspired by Native American chopping bowls. These carved dishes are small rarities that speaks to the importance and influence Mary Wright, an often overlooked figure, had on the whole of American modern design. 

The Power of Two:
Mary Einstein Wright and Russel Wright

at The Garrison Art Center, Garrison, New York, 2015