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

Curatorial Alchemy

Our paths first crossed, unknown until many years later, at an intimate yet bustling wedding reception in a south Chicago apartment. This was probably 30 years ago, perhaps even the same year a new gallery, Torno Wright, opened at the end of my street to a fanfare of Eames, heralding new changes to come. Criss-crossing breezes of chance encounters, meandering spirits, hazy focus of time and space, of enthusiasm and knowledge sought, now united again in the same city.

That same serendipity, prompting impulse and discovery, guided welcome reward in the crucible of that great industrial city, still littered with the artefacts of the American mid-century. It was within this uneven yet fertile terrain, hidden slightly below surface, that Patrick’s intuitive talent—honed first as photographer then embellished as artist—would treasure the valuable neglected as passionate collector, and then as the inspirational dealer that I was to meet again, years later in New York City.

If asked to select one word to describe Patrick, I would resist and pick two. The first would be curiosity—a fundamental essential, to stimulate inquiry and rigour in all things, both great and small, of any era or region, type or surface. Even the most fleeting survey of this selection for sale is a celebration of innovation and of inspiration—an unerring eye for the unusually exceptional, or perhaps the exceptionally unusual. The chances are, that these are indeed discoveries that you have not yet realized that you needed to make.

Mentor, would be my second word. If artefacts and objects articulate visual, cultural and historic language, then the fluency of skillful mentorship—to guide, nurture, describe and explain—releases the eloquence of murmuring histories. In this capacity Patrick is that most earnest and sincere of excellent narrators. If ever I had friends, clients or colleagues visiting New York looking for unusual inspiration, there was always the certainty that Patrick’s gallery would offer them a glimpse of the hitherto unseen or the unusually seductive, always with the reassurance of the most fascinating story waiting to be told.

Mentorship and curiosity, when balanced in equal measure, reveal the precious alchemy of a curator. And it is the duty of the mature curator to discern and detect, to cultivate change, and from there to pioneer, and to share. Innovation is never static, and the Present is already the Future. Fresh dialogs evolve, energies to be nurtured, opportunities to be guided. Renewed and re-orientated, Patrick now faces fully forward—as benefactor, interlocutor and mentor to a new, inquisitive generation of talented creators, and the quest for discovery rejuvenates.

— Simon Andrews