I paid $289 for admission to a Russel Wright exhibition in San Francisco. That price didn’t include a docent, but it did include a one-way flight from SFO to New York. You have to be a ticketed passenger to see many of the exhibits presented by San Francisco Airport Museums (SFAM), which have been treating the traveling public to a bit of culture to soften the feeling of cattle herding since 1980.
Through October in Terminal 3 is Wright at Home: Modern Lifestyle Design 1930–1965, an exhibit of dinnerware, furniture and accessories by the American industrial designer. Russel Wright is considered the first brand name or “celebrity” in home furnishings – the Martha Stewart of his time – largely in part to the brilliant marketing skills of his wife, Mary Small Einstein.
It was Mary who encouraged Russel to put his signature on his work – a wise decision considering that 250 million pieces of his American Modern dinnerware were sold between 1939 and 1959. But the pair was interested in more than just giving people the tools for easier living; they also wanted to teach people how to live in more efficient, less formal ways, and in 1950 they published their manifesto Guide to Easier Living.
Speaking of Wright’s signature, it’s worth noting that he spells his first name with one “l” which isn’t a ploy to make him seem more unique (like the Wendy who spells her name “Wendi” with a heart over the “i”), but rather the missing “l” is the result of a typo. In the 1920s, a stationer who is certainly not a household name (except for @*%#$ typesetter!) produced letterhead with Wright’s name misspelled. Always the practical (cheap?) industrial designer, he decided to go with it, and Russell became Russel.
And it’s a good thing too, because if you want to learn more about Wright, and you accidentally google Russell (two l’s), you’ll stumble upon the Twitter account of a Wyoming-based musician who beautifully demonstrates why I think Twitter is a craptacular (thank you NPR for adding a word to my vocabulary last Sunday) use of time:
“Get Joel some wedding cake.”
However, Russell the Wyoming musician did tweet, “Wow, Frank is all that!” which made me wonder what Russel the iconic industrial designer would tweet about Frank Lloyd Wright. Unlike Wright and Wright, Wright has access to new technologies that Wright and Wright could never even imagine. And I’d bet you a potluck dinner that mid-century designers like Eames, Wright (you can pick which one I’m referring to), Bertoia, Panton and others would’ve used Twitter in smart, relevant, compelling and useful ways.
I don’t tweet because things like, “Everyone in the IT department appears to be wearing the same shirt today,” are better left in my head than expressed to others. Instead, I offer you “tweets” by Russel Wright, taken from the pages of Guide to Easier Living, along with images of his work and Hudson River valley home:
It’s unclear how the plate-clock is the ticket to easier living (perhaps in a pinch you can serve on it, if you don’t mind that pesky second hand sweeping through your food), but it’s a fun item to troll for on eBay. The original retail of $9 translates to about $75 today, which is close to the final hammer prices I’ve seen online.
Check out the Russel Wright exhibit if you’re traveling through SFO, and if you’re on the East Coast, be sure to visit the Russel Wright Design Center (pay attention to the doors and doorknobs) and if you’ve seen either one, let me know what you think.