Antique Detective: Russel Wright-designed items varied and still around

The big hunt for Russel Wright “Fiesta” pottery that began in the late 1970s and ’80s has leveled off, as have prices. A new generation of collectors have discovered his designs in aluminum, silver, chrome and plastic as well as furniture and decorative accessories. They turn up at auctions, shops and eBay. The good news is that interesting examples can be found at garage sales and flea markets, and they are affordable. Good examples would be his serving pieces in spun aluminum.

Whenever you party on the patio or serve from a buffet think of Russel Wright. His ceramic dinnerware with casseroles and spun aluminum serving pieces marked the beginning of informal entertaining. And, of course, the cocktail hour introduced his chrome-plated cocktail accessories, the glasses lined with silver. Russel and Mary Wright changed the way we entertain.

Even the shape of dinnerware changed, as did color concepts with the introduction of Wright’s “American Modern” dinnerware in 1939. Plates lost their rims and pitchers were elongated. Colors were mixed and matched in wondrous colors of turquoise blue and olive green.

Mary Wright designed and created her only complete dinnerware line in 1946, “Country Gardens” for the Bauer Pottery, Atlanta, Ga. The colors and forms had an Asian look that didn’t sell well at the time. It was shortly discontinued. However, these days with the interest in Asian design they could enjoy a revival.

The Wrights introduced their then revolutionary entertaining concepts into a book, “Guide to Easier Living” published in 1950. It was timely since Americans were moving to the suburbs in droves. Needless to say the middle-class housewife embraced the idea of easy care and easy moveable furniture.

American Modern and Iroquois dinnerware fitted in perfectly with this casual dining. Even more so was Wright’s line of plastic “Melmac” dinnerware named “Residential.”

During this same period the Wright’s created outdoor furniture and multi-purpose pieces for the Stratton Furniture Company of Hagerstown, Maryland. Among them coffee and dining tables with built-in leaf extensions.

CLUES: Spun aluminum pieces are signed. His early “casual” line was signed and marked “China by Iroquois.” Pieces made after 1950 are marked “Iroquois China by Russel Wright.”

Prices depend for the most part on rarity and quality of designs. They run the gamut. At a Treadway Toomy auction a pair of signed “fire deer” circa 1930 andirons fetched $12,650. A Wright aluminum desk lamp sold under estimate for $150.

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