Russel Wright and Japan: Bridging Japonisme and Good Design through Craft

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Abstract:

Russel Wright was an American designer who promoted the "American Modern" design and the "Good Design" movement from the 1930s through the 1950s. While he is familiar in the Western design context, his postwar involvement in Asia through the American foreign aid program promoting the idea of "Asian Modern" is little known. Wright and his associates gave the Japanese government advice on the promotion of handcraft, and informed the selection and modification of handcrafts for export to the United States. His advice pushed forward the official launch of the "Japanese Good Handcrafts Promotion Scheme," and subsequent implementation of design policy and system. This process also contributed to the development of the "Japanese Modern" style for craft-based design. In the context of the United States, Wright's Asian project can be seen not only as an extended experiment of the Good Design movement, but also a reflection of Japonisme, which formed an integral part of the modern American cultural identity. This article investigates the nature and extent of Wright's intervention in Japan with a particular focus on the way that the crafts facilitated cross-fertilization between ideas of nationality and the Good Design movements both in the United States and Japan.

Keywords: COLD WAR; CRAFT; JAPAN; JAPONISME; RUSSEL WRIGHT; THE GOOD DESIGN MOVEMENT

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/174967808X379434

Publication date: November 1, 2008

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Modern Craft is the first peer-reviewed academic journal to provide an interdisciplinary and international forum on the subject of craft. It addresses all forms of making that self-consciously set themselves apart from mass production— whether in the making of designed objects, artworks, buildings, or other artifacts.

    The journal covers craft in all its historical and contemporary manifestations. This ranges from the mid-nineteenth century, when handwork was first consciously framed in opposition to industrialization, through to the present time, when ideas once confined to the “applied arts” have come to seem vital across a huge range of cultural activities. Special emphasis is placed on studio practice, and on the transformations of indigenous forms of craft activity throughout the world. The journal also reviews and analyzes the relevance of craft within new media, folk art, architecture, design, contemporary art, and other fields.

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