For craftsman and industrial designer Russel Wright (1904-1976), flatware was not just a tool for the tabletop. It was a tool for easier living. From the late 1920s through to the 1960s, Wright introduced Americans to modern, practical, and easy-to-care-for homewares and furnishings suited to a more informal and sociable way of life.
“Highlight/Pinch” flatware, manufactured by the John Hull Cutlery Corporation, embodied Wright’s unique sense of craftsmanship and industrial design. As a craftsman, Wright held great appreciation for the materials he worked with and an understanding of the subtlety of organic design. To make cutlery that felt good in the hand he designed softly contoured flatware with attenuated necks and depressed handles for comfortable and efficient use. Yet, as an industrial designer, Wright wanted to make affordable products that were available to everyone. With no intricate ornamentation, “Highlight/Pinch” was designed to be produced in stainless steel with a brushed satin finish. It was a carefree, and tarnish-proof alternative to silver and silver-plate cutlery, and in 1951 it debuted in Macy’s at a reasonably priced $6.95 for a five-piece setting.
Wright, and other designers of the era, blended beauty and usefulness to revolutionize flatware design in the 1950s. Their new elegant and affordable tools made from stainless steel quickly became acceptable and popular in kitchens, dining rooms, and on patio tables across the country.
In 2011, Wright’s “Highlight/Pinch” flatware was commemorated on a series of U.S. Postal Service ‘Forever’ stamps that celebrated twelve American industrial designers who helped shape the look of everyday life in the twentieth century. The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and Philbrook Museum of Art organized an exhibition in conjunction with the release of the stamps. “Stamps of Approval” displayed nine of the objects featured on the stamps including Wright’s flatware and this presentation drawing of “Highlight/Pinch.”
Rebecca Gross is a graduate student in the History of Decorative Arts and Design at Parsons The New School for Design. She is a freelance researcher and writer with an interest in twentieth-century American design and culture.