Good Design for Everyone: American Modern by Russel Wright

The glaze captures the imagination .  . .

Russel Wright dedicated long hours to mixing glazes to achieve the depth of soft color of American Modern Dinnerware. The first glaze colors – Chartreuse, Seafoam, Granite Gray, Coral, and Bean Brown –  were envisaged as a complementary palette. The glazes bring out the best in each other – a reflection of color in the natural world.  In that vein, American Modern was introduced as “open stock” dinnerware.

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American Modern designed by Russel Wright, produced by Steubenville Pottery, 1937.             Chop Plate in Seafoam (13.5 X 13.5 inches)

Seafoam has an earthiness unexpected in blue . . . it is not a blue-gray. A stormy sea at sundown?

The seafoam glaze grounds chartreuse while the shape of the square platter cradles the salad plate. A platter without a distinct rim or a deep well was distinctly different in 1937. Russel Wright stripped the typical elements of a platter. His minimalist design would shape modern dinnerware while his glaze colors were imitated but never duplicated.

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American Modern Glass by Russel Wright and Morgantown Glass Guild, 1951.                      Cocktail Glasses, Chartreuse (3 X 3 inches)

 

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American Modern Chop Plate serves as a Cocktail Tray.

Good design does not dictate. The chop plate designed for the service of a meat course was a large square platter that might serve as a tray . ..  in other rooms as well.

 

 . . .  the art of life is centered on the dinner table.

The Victorian etiquette books were heavy with standards that were unattainable for most consumers. There were bone plates, fish plates, underplates in the list. And of course, there was the time required to set such a table and maintain a lifestyle dictated by the past that was no longer practical in the every day of life.

American Modern set a new standard – multi-functional and undecorated pieces that could be mixed by the homemaker at will. In their book, Russel and Mary Wright wrote, that each table setting would be a unique design  –  a work of art created by the homemaker. The art of the table.

 

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American Modern by Russel Wright. Steubenville Pottery, 1939.                                                    Celery Tray, Seafoam (13 X 3 inches).

 

Hull Pottery: Classic Brown Drip and Comfort Food

Late in the 1960s, there was an exodus from the city to the country. If you are a boomer like me, you remember those days.  The protests of late are peaceful compared to the days that we witnessed in our lives or on the television with Walter Cronkite. Ken Burns has certainly brought back the memories of those tumultuous years in the PBS series, Vietnam. After watching the series, it is no surprise that a generation of young people wanted to “drop out” to find a simpler life. And, there was even an anthem . . . I’m gonna leave this city, got to get away,  Canned Heat.

Times had changed. The happy turquoise and pink of the 1950s were out of step with the new ethos of peace, love and living on the land. The pivot from the past was played out in the last episode of Mad Men with Don Draper chanting OM.
The new lifestyle was a choice based on a natural way of living. Processed food was rejected. Whole grain bread and granola replaced Cocoa Puffs and Wonder Bread. The trend was homemade food, not fast food; but rather, whole foods that were comforting. The aroma of apple pie, oatmeal cookies, Sunday chicken dinner with real mashed potatoes. It is no surprise, that handmade pottery was the perfect choice for this aesthetic. You might even say that this kind of comfort food almost demands brown drip dishes made by Hull Pottery.

At the same time, sales were trending downward at Hull Pottery.  The president of the pottery, J. B. Hull spotted a trend in California for brown pottery. He realized the earthiness of brown glaze was a natural choice. Soon, Hull was producing Brown Drip housewares  – and it was flying off shelves.

 

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Hull Brown Drip Bowls, Hull USA Crestone, Oven-Proof.

Eventually, Hull introduced new colors that reflected a lighter mood – the ubiquitous avocado, a bluer shade of turquoise, and tangerine . . .

 

Forty years later, Hull dinnerware is still in demand. Most often, children of that generation seek out Hull. It brings back memories – the best memories, after all, are the times that we share gathered together to share a simple family dinner or a feast with our friends. Or the times that we stop and make a batch of cookies.

 

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The designers at Hull Pottery understood the tradition of cookies baked at home. The wonderful aroma of gingerbread baking in the oven. The mystery of the empty cookie jar.

Hull Brown Drip Gingerbread Man Tray

Happy Holiday baking to all . . .

 

Every Plate Tells a Story: Horn and Hardart

At the turn of the last century, the potteries along the Ohio River were working overtime to fulfill rapidly increasing orders – bricks for streets, clay products for drainage, durable toilet wares, and dinnerware. American potteries had developed new production methods and, importantly for consumers, the china produced was equal to the wares produced in England. There was a celebratory air in the potteries as described by editors in business journals.

Glass and Pottery Salesman 1921

In Beaver Falls, the annual holiday loaf was brief. Indeed, the customary holiday inactivity which extended from December 24 to January 3 gave way to a short holiday break. The economic boom was no less evident on the streets of cities. Two entrepreneurs,  Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart, opened a luncheonette in Philadelphia automated equipment imported from Germany. City workers with little time for lunch filled the restaurants – they claimed one out of sixteen people ate once a day in a Horn & Hardart.

Two entrepreneurs,  Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart, opened a luncheonette in Philadelphia with automated equipment. City workers with little time for lunch filled the restaurants.  Soon, Horn & Hardart prepared food for carry-out by the consumer.

Messiers  Horn and Hardart did not cut corners – they offered fresh food prepared carefully. In The Automat: Birth of a Fast Food Nation, Christopher Klein writes:

While Horn & Hardart Automats delivered food quickly, meals were made from scratch using fresh, high-quality ingredients. Items were prepared shortly before they were eaten, and food was not allowed to linger overnight. Freshly squeezed orange juice that sat for two hours was poured down the drain.

Back along the Ohio River, Mayer China was producing Marion for the new automats in New York. Marion is an Art Deco teal transferware pattern. The simple design is charming, but not cloying. It is warm and comfortable not commercial.

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Marion by Mayer China

The resplendent surroundings of the Horn & Hardart Automats—with marble counters and floors, stained glass, chrome fixtures, ornately carved ceilings and Art Deco signage—more resembled Parisian bistros than sterile, dingy fast food outlets. Food was served on real china and eaten with solid flatware.                                      Automat: Birth of a Fast Food Nation

Classic Americana: Heavy Old Diner Coffee Mug

Classic, curvy, heavy and durable coffee mug. The kind used in the local diner for years. From that rather humble beginning, mugs like these have become icons of the past. It is still possible to find great old mugs that are simple, heavy and durable in shades of white. Rarely do they bear any signatory other than a makers mark on the bottom. But very old ironstone mugs like this are not always marked. But we can find them because they were made to endure. In short, they don’t make them like this anymore.
– The lines were hand drawn – no two mugs are the same.
– The oldest mugs were not poured into a mold – they were hand-fashioned on a wheel.
– Vitrified by high temps, twice fired at 2200 degrees. The heat is so high that the glaze fuses with the clay to form glass – resistant to stains, safe for the dishwasher.
– Because of the weight and thickness, this mug will keep your hot beverage warm for just a bit longer.

The classic white coffee mug on the red and white check tablecloth was produced by Hall China in East Liverpool, Ohio, circa 1925. Fortunately, Hall China remains a fully operational pottery. At present, Hall is geared to the professional cook, they produce pieces that will go into the freezer, the dishwasher on sterilize, into the oven or the broiler for au gratin.

This beauty was produced by Sterling China in Wellsville, Ohio in the 1930s; the stamp is very early.

 

 

The double pin stripe lines are especially appealing. So clean and cool. What is even more remarkable is the glaze – still bright with lots of sheen. Heavy? Yes, this Sterling coffee mug weighs 1.25 pounds.

 

 

 

 

 

Available at http://etsy.me/2f9xlKg

A Little Romance

How many times do we answer, “I just do not have the time.” So why not keep it simple?

Bits and pieces that easily set the mood. Perhaps, even, motivate to make some time?

Like a tablecloth. Vintage Quaker Lace, for instance, was produced for the modern family – ease of laundering, forget about ironing. Launder – and it is ready for tonight – and many evenings to come.

Easy Care Quaker Lace, Gala

 

Classic Restaurant Ware – The Green Crest Border

If there is one pattern that defines restaurant ware then perhaps, a green crest border would find a place in the top three patterns. But still, it is not easy to find in quantity these days. But sometimes, a tall stack of these old diner dishes appears in a dusty old basement or the back room of a restaurant. Like these. . . . stacks and stacks of plates.

Green Crest Restaurant Ware

 

Ohio Valley Pottery: A Bowl is a Bowl is a . . .

Ohio Valley Pottery: A Bowl is a Bowl is a . . .

Russel Wright, White Salad Bowl, Steubenville Pottery ca. 1950s

Not a true statement. In my mind, there are bowls – and then there are bowls. Sometimes, bowls take on very interesting shapes. Even production pieces like those made at Steubenville Pottery for the American Modern line of dinnerware designed by Russel Wright. This bowl is a vessel that seems to cradle all that it holds. Sometimes it looks like an open hand …it is a curve that does not stop…

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Bailey-Walker China: Blue and White Ironstone

Bailey-Walker China: Blue and White Ironstone

Blue and White Ironstone, Bailey-Walker China, ca. 1930s

Sometimes I look through a stack of plates with amazement. Really? Seventy-five years old? These plates are really that old? How in the world did they produce millions of plates, literally in the case of Bailey-Walker China Company and at the end of the day, have a quality product. As one writer has put it, the plates are “bullet proof.”   I believe it might have something to do with the fact…

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Vintage Restaurant Ware: A Sentimental Journey

Vintage Restaurant Ware: A Sentimental Journey

Hotel Lafayette, Warwick China

Certainly restaurant ware was not produced to fill emotional needs. In fact these wares fulfilled highly practical needs for commercial accounts such as durability including chip resistance and heat resistance. The rounded edges of restaurant ware resisted chipping unlike dinnerware produced for homes. Later, large manufacturers like Syracuse developed dinnerware that saved space as kitchens…

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Spring Cleaning Tip: How to Clean Rugs

Spring Cleaning Tip: How to Clean Rugs

Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis's Cook Book

Last week, I rolled up a rug in the dining room. I was appalled at all of the dust and dirt under the rug. Really shocked … As luck would have it, I had been reading an old book of household hints that predates Hints from Heloise by fifty years. I remembered the section,  “How to Clean a Rug.” Notice that it is a man swinging that rug beater. No wonder  … there is no advice on how to find…

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April Showers, Spring Flowers and Dandelion Bouquets

April Showers, Spring Flowers and Dandelion Bouquets

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Already April. Spring. Since the last post describing the world as our marketplace, we have been a little overwhelmed with the response. Such an honor it is.  The wares produced here in the Ohio Valley that once moved up and down the mighty Ohio River are now making their way across the globe via our little post office and then onto planes and trucks. Already it is spring. It is raining – April…

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