Ruth Adler Schnee, Wireworks, 1950, ink on white dreamspun batiste. Photo: PD Rearick
This retrospective exhibition of the work of textile and interior designer Ruth Adler Schnee (b. 1923), still in active practice at age 96, affirms her pivotal role in the development of the modern interior. The exhibition presents at its core the body of textile patterns that Adler Schnee has created over the course of her prolific seven-decade career, including the screen-printed fabrics that helped define mid-century American modernism as well as their later translation into woven textiles. These designs become the filament that weaves throughout Adler Schnee’s professional networks, crossing between her and her husband’s retail entrepreneurship and her interior design commissions and architectural collaborations.
Born to a German Jewish family in Frankfurt, Germany, her mother’s Bauhaus training and creative circle of friends developed Adler Schnee’s interest in vibrant use of colors, rich textures, modern form, and the thoughtful study of architectural space from an early age. Following the Nazis’ Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938, the Adler family fled to the United States and settled in Detroit. First studying fashion design at Cass Technical High School and interior architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, Adler Schnee received an MFA in Design from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1946, becoming one of the first women to receive this degree. She went on to found a design consulting firm and modern design shop in Detroit with her husband Edward Schnee, launching a business which brought good design into important modern homes for over half a century.
Vintage textiles, archival drawings and photography, and assorted ephemera, as well as her ongoing textile collaborations with companies such as Anzea Textiles and KnollTextiles, come together in an architectonic display to illuminate the underrepresented narrative of how women shaped the direction and reception of modernism in postwar America. The exhibition reveals her rigorous, iterative design processes and presents the more ephemeral residential and commercial interior design projects alongside the material through line of her textiles.
An extensive 200-page publication accompanies the exhibition and situates Adler Schnee’s practice within her professional network of peers and collaborators—such as Alexander Girard, Jack Lenor Larsen, Angelo Testa, Albert Kahn, Eero Saarinen, and Minoru Yamasaki—while documenting her textile oeuvre and her fascinating life’s journey.
The exhibition is made possible with support from the Clannad Foundation and the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation. Ruth Adler Schnee is organized by Cranbrook Art Museum and curated by Ian Gabriel Wilson, the Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow.
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