2019 Exhibition: Collecting Modern

collecting modern:
Gifts from the George R. Kravis II Collection

On view with Tour Participation May 9, 2019 - November 11, 2019
Purchase Tickets at

Spun Aluminum Informal Serving Accessories, 1930 - 1935
Chromium Plated Steel, 1935 - 1946
American Modern, 1939 - 1959
Iroquois Casual China, 1946 - 1960s
American Modern Morgantown Glassware, 1951
Eclipse Glassware, 1957

George R. Kravis II (1938 - 2018) assembled a vast and comprehensive design collection with the vision of advancing public understanding of the meaning and value of design. He saw design as an important part of his life and wanted to share this experience with others. He lent and gifted to many institutions including the Museum of Modern Art and Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. George was particularly interested in the work of Russel Wright, and we know that one of his favorite trips while staying in New York was his visit to Manitoga to see where Wright lived, worked and was inspired. His bequest of over 400 objects to Manitoga / The Russel Wright Design Center will help us raise awareness of Russel Wright’s industrial design legacy, his and Mary Wrights’ groundbreaking innovations in design and lifestyle, and their great contribution to modernism in America.

 Resetting the American Table

“Do our homes really express the ideals of democracy and individualism we all profess?” Russel and Mary Wright asked this question at the beginning of their landmark 1950 book, Guide to Easier Living, but they had been steadily answering it for almost two decades through their work. Striving for an egalitarian ideal of high-quality, modern design for all, the Wrights revolutionized the American home and the way people lived there. Wright’s inexpensive, mass-produced dinnerware, furniture, appliances, and textiles were not only visually and technically innovative, but were also the tools to achieve the Wrights’ concept of “easier living” – a distinctly American lifestyle that was gracious yet contemporary and informal. 

In the groundbreaking Spun Aluminum line of the early 1930s, objects featured simple geometric shapes that catered to sophisticated urbanites interested in machine-age aesthetics. Cool aluminum was juxtaposed with wood knobs and handles; cork and rattan sleeves made the pieces warm to the touch. Mary Wright came up with the idea of marketing the line with themed casual parties, ideal ways to economize during the Depression. Almost thirty years later in 1957, Wright added the low-cost, festive Eclipse line of glassware to the American cocktail party.

The American Modern dinnerware line, introduced in 1939, with its bold shapes, earthy colors, and jewel-like glazes, would become the defining moment of the Wrights’ career. Starting with the American Modern line and followed by the Casual China line of the mid-1940s, Mary and Russel Wright sought to give consumers a chance to express their individuality. Consumers were encouraged to freely mix pieces from different Wright-designed lines, while purchasers of American Modern and Casual China dinnerware could create their own palette from the many color options.  Stove-to-table casseroles saved labor. Carafes could hold wine, water or flowers. Ramekin lids doubled as saucers, and gravy boat liners as pickle dishes. Stackable “sets”, sugar-and-creamers, and salt-and-pepper shakers saved space on the table and in the cupboard.

Adapted from Russel Wright: An American Modern, by Donald Albrecht and Dianne Pierce, Co-Curators of Russel Wright: The Nature of Design, August 29, 2012 - March 10, 2013, Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, SUNY New Paltz.

PHOTO 1, from top, left to right:

Iroquois China Carafes in Lettuce Green, Parsley Green, Ripe Apricot, Lemon Yellow, Charcoal, Pink Sherbet, Nutmeg, Sugar White (8 of 14 colors)

American Modern Water Pitchers in Chartreuse, Bean Brown, Granite Grey, Black Chutney, Cedar Green, White, Seafoam (7 of 11 colors)

American Modern Covered Casserole – Glacier Blue, Stack Server – Coral, 
Covered Casserole – Chartreuse, Covered Casserole - Seafoam, Stack Server – Chartreuse, Covered Casserole – Cantaloupe

American Modern Jug/Carafes (all missing wooden stopper) in Coral, Bean Brown, Chartreuse, Seafoam
American Modern Divided Relish – Seafoam, Covered Individual Ramekin – Chartreuse
American Modern Covered Pitcher – Granite Grey (center), Covered Individual Ramekin – Black Chutney, American Modern Divided Relish – Coral

American Modern Gravy Boat and Liner in Granite Grey, Cedar Green and Coral
Back to front: Iroquois Stacking Salt and Pepper in Sugar White, Avocado Yellow, Pink Sherbet, Ripe Apricot; American Modern Salt and Pepper Shakers in Seafoam, Coral, Chartreuse 
American Modern After Dinner (Demitasse) Cups and Saucers in Coral, Chartreuse, Black Chutney, Granite Grey, Seafoam 

WET BAR, left
Spun Aluminum Beverage Cooler; Aluminum and Wood Tray with Eclipse Highball Tumblers in Yellow, Flamingo, Turquoise; Morgantown American Modern Champagne Glasses – Smoke

Special thanks to Charles Burleigh, Charles Burleigh Design, for display design.