Four and a half years ago, I blogged about my enthusiasm for Interplay Fine China by Iroquois. Dinnerware scholar Michael Pratt had recently found period documentation definitively attributing the line to Russel Wright. Collectors were resistant to this information, but I rejoiced. I enjoyed the pieces of Interplay in my collection, and it pleased me to know that they shared a lineage with American Modern, Casual China, and Wright's other tabletop designs.
Now, 54 months later, a post on the Facebook page for The Designs of Russel and Mary Wright has opened up the "controversy" again.
What seems peculiar to me is the hostility with which some collectors regard the very idea that Wright could have had anything to do with Interplay, denying accounts in The New York Times and trade publications of the day. When a curator in a museum finds documentation that a previously unattributed painting is by a famous painter, resistance usually gives way to curiosity and excitement. How thrilling to have a new work to add to our understanding of the artist's career, the evolution of his or her style.
I won't try to persuade anyone here that Interplay is a Wright design. (But it is.) Instead, I want to go a little deeper into why I admire the line. I consider it to be a line that makes concessions to consumer taste while pushing dinnerware design forward.
1) The line, in its conception, blends solid colors -- charcoal and golden melon -- with patterns -- Arabesque, Fleur-de-lis, and Woodvine. (My table setting above lacks any patterned dinner plates, substituting Casual China plates in oyster gray.) Whether you are a fan of the patterns (I love Arabesque, I loathe Woodvine), I hope you might concede that they coordinate with the solids beautifully. On a fine white china ground, the patterns incorporate charcoal and melon with an unexpected pop of brilliant red.
2) Speaking of that fine china, it really is quite wonderful: thinner and more translucent than Casual China, but equally durable and resistant to chips and breaks. It feels like fancy china, which must have appealed to homemakers in 1953.
3) The shape of the cup seems to address critiques of the iconic, but impractical, American Modern cup. In Eva Zeisel: Designer for Industry, Zeisel shows how a person must tip her head back unnaturally in order to drain an American Modern cup. The Interplay cups, both the teacup and the demitasse, gracefully flare out at the rim, allowing for easy drinking. (To be critical, I will say that I do not find the handles especially comfortable to hold, and the cups do not stack for storage.)
4) The sherbet bowl is a quirky and playful form, with a function not found in other Wright lines. It makes me think of a trumpet made of marshmallow. The shape of the bowl practically demands that you pile whip cream atop your frozen dessert and plop a cherry on it.
5) When I last wrote about Interplay, I heralded the beverage server. I still think of it as the showpiece of the line. It's gorgeous. (It won the Good Design award in 1953.) I photographed it below with a Highlight cup because I feel a kinship between the aesthetics of the two objects: the muted glaze, the fluid curves. But I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything.