Modern American ceramics

December 13, 2011 in Product Design

Russel Wright - American Modern

Editor’s Note: Ceramics and modernism are two of our favorite subjects. Here are a few of our choice lines from the mid 20th century. We will revisit this subject often.

The term American Modern is a distinct American design aesthetic formed in the period between 1925 and World War II. American Modern was created by a pioneering group of designers, architects and artists, among them were Norman Bel Geddes, Donald Deskey, Henry Dreyfuss, Paul Frankl, William Lescaze, Raymond Loewy, Gilbert Rohde, Eliel Saarinen, Walter Dorwin Teague, Kem Weber and Russel. Their impact on the daily lives of ordinary Americans is exemplified through a wide array of objects including furniture, glassware, ceramics, textiles, metalwork, household appliances, automobiles, airplanes and graphic arts. American Modern is distinguished by the absence of traditional ornament, the use of new technologies and materials, and the adoption of mass-production techniques to create affordable objects for the expanding population.

American Modern dinnerware by Russel Wright 1939 – 1959

American Modern Dinnerware. Colorful and curvaceous dinnerware designed by Russel Wright originally manufactured by Steubenville Pottery in Steubenville, Ohio and currently manufactured by Bauer Pottery Company of Los Angeles. Its unique and immediately recognizable colors of coral, chartreuse, granite grey and seafoam, as well as its distinctive curvilinear decorative shapes, went on to make American Modern dinnerware the most popular and identifiable china pattern/china colors ever sold, with over 250 million pieces sold between 1939 – 1959 alone.

Russel Wright also produced several other lines of pottery for the growing needs of the American middle-class including Iroquois Casual (1946), and Residential Melamine (1953). For all of these series and sets one can easily grasp the idealistic notions Wright was separating himself from and at the same time gain an understanding for those notions of Modernism he was moving towards.

Hall Pottery for Westinghouse and Hotpoint – Universal and Oxfordware Pottery

Hall, Universal and Oxfordware Pottery refridgerator dishes

Hall, Universal and Oxfordware Pottery

Around the same time frame one of the nation’s largest ceramics manufacturers expanded its reach by giving away its wares. Refrigerators — must-haves for homes in the modern age — were being sold almost faster than they could be produced. Companies like General Electric, Hotpoint and Westinghouse kept up with America’s demand while retail outlets made deals with companies like Pyrex, Universal, Hall Pottery and others to make their sales more enticing to consumers.

Hall for Westinghouse Label

Hall for Westinghouse Label

Enter the mass produced refrigerator dishes. With the convenience of preserved food and beverages in the home came the need to stylishly store them. Hall Pottery went one step further by making different lines and sets of refrigerator dishware for different retailers. The more curvaceous and slightly more stately designs were fit for customers buying their appliances at Montgomery Ward & Co. The more utilitarian and boxier of the designs were for those buying their iceboxes through Hotpoint and Westinghouse. Of course, one could purchase pieces separately but the larger retailers would give make deals with ceramics manufacturers to offer them free with their products.