Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee Papers
There is a large variety of materials in this collection, covering Ruth Adler Schnee’s early years to the present. The prominent role of her husband, Edward Schnee, in her design work and as partner in their retail business, is documented throughout their married life. There is a wealth of items that illustrate her early, artistic talent, including drawings, diaries and school papers, plus material on the contributions of her parents, Marie and Joseph Adler. Original drawings of her textile designs and correspondence with fabric companies help trace her artistic history. The collection is arranged into five series, Education, Personal, Professional, Oversize Material and Photographs.
SERIES I: Education (1912-2002) covers Ruth’s early years in Germany, through her graduation from Cranbrook Art Academy. Material from Germany, in this series, is untranslated. There are related, oversize items, such as diplomas, a scrapbook from RISD, and many drawings done from elementary school age through her Cranbrook period. A number of pattern and fashion illustration books, compiled by Schnee, show her talent in that field, a talent redirected to architecture once she began at RISD. SERIES II: Personal (1828- 2005) is of particular interest for the many letters Ruth wrote during her formative years, including camp letters from 1940 and many letters to her family when she was in Providence attending RISD, then living in New York City, 1942-1946. There are also letters from Ruth’s parents, Marie and Joseph Adler, written mainly from their winter home in Mexico. Two early diaries are written in “old” German but have been translated by Schnee. Contained in this series are the papers of Edward Schnee, though there are many references to and by him throughout the entire collection. SERIES III: Professional (1940-2009, n.d.)
Subseries 1, Design Production (1940-2009, n.d.) has in it records of Schnee’s work and achievements as a textile designer. It includes statements of her design philosophy, resumes and copies of publicity for her fabric and interior design work. Correspondence with ICF/Unika Vaev and Anzea documents the reissue of her 1950s designs as well as the creation of new designs. Categories on exhibitions and lectures illustrate her wide popularity and authority on the subject of design, especially mid-century modern. Original textile drawings can be found in the Oversize Material series. Subseries 2, Business Records (1947-2003, n.d.) has the history of what began as Ruth Adler Designs, Inc., with original catalogs used to promote and sell her fabrics. Following her marriage to Edward Schnee in 1948, the company became Adler-Schnee Associates, then Adler/Schnee, and finally Schnee & Schnee. Materials gathered during the couples’ buying trips to such places as Scandinavia, Mexico and Central America give some idea of what was involved in these endeavors. There is information on the historic Hemmeter building, on Harmonie Park, where the last store was located. Publicity on activities in the store and surrounding area help chronicle the retail history of downtown Detroit during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Advertising and promotions show the Avant Garde merchandise carried by Adler/Schnee, as well as the store’s involvement with the local artistic community. There is information on several of the residential projects designed by Ruth, as well as some of the smaller commercial projects such as Hannan House and the DeSerrano senior residence. Subseries 3, Major Projects (1982-1991, n.d.) has detailed information on the work involved in the interior space design work for the Metropolitan Detroit Jewish Community Center’s Residence for Jewish Elderly, in West Bloomfield in 1983-1985. Architectural plans, signage design, chapel and meeting place details reveal the intense level of work involved. In the series Oversize Material are room presentation boards for this project. There is also an abundance of material on a similar project, called Sholom House, undertaken in Minneapolis in 1992. SERIES IV: Oversize Material (1932-2007, n.d.) has a wide assortment of mainly artistic materials ranging from childhood, high school and RISD drawings (16 are unfoldered and mounted on matboard) to Schnee’s professional textile designs. There are a few Adler/Schnee items such as a design done for an early promotion piece, shopping bags and some ad layouts. There are over 400 loose pieces of Schnee’s drawing through her Cranbrook years, much of it school assignments. Other work is contained in notebooks. There are roughly 150 of Schnee’s textile designs, in varying sizes and stages. Eighteen Design boards for the Residence for Jewish Elderly project display room and floor designs. The boards have mounted on them samples for carpet, walls, furniture fabric & wood, and window treatment material, plus illustrations of furniture. SERIES V: Photographs (n.d.) has many slides and color prints of Schnee’s work in interior design, both commercial and residential. Images that document several of her exhibitions capture many of her fabrics. Of interest are both prints and negatives of student projects she did while at Cranbrook. Also included are images of work of local artists displayed in the store or used in interior design work
- 1828 - 2009
- Majority of material found within 1942 - 2009
- Schnee, Edward (Person)
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Ruth Adler Schnee was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1923 to Joseph and Marie Adler. Her family later moved to Dusseldorf, where they were neighbors to Paul Klee, an admitted influence on her work. Her mother, Marie Adler, studied at the famed Bauhaus, bringing that perspective to Schnee’s early education. As an artist, she was further inspired by the art she saw at Hitler’s Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) exhibition in 1937, in particular the colorful work of Kandinsky, perhaps the only positive to come out of that horrific period. During the increasingly brutal attacks and restrictions of the Nazi regime, the Adlers fled the country.
Schnee came to Detroit with her family in 1939, attended Hutchins Intermediate School, and graduated from Cass Technical High School in January 1942. Winning a four-year scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), she graduated in 1945. A brief career as assistant designer in the New York firm of Raymond Loewy (the result of winning a Condé Nast Prix de Paris award), ended when she attained a fellowship to the Cranbrook Academy of Art. It was while working at Raymond Loewy that she first met Minoru Yamasaki, who became a lifelong friend and associate. At Cranbrook she studied with Eliel Saarinen and experienced the intellectual challenges that she thrived on. Later, she met and became friends with such Cranbrook notables as Ray and Charles Eames, and Louis Redstone. Upon graduating in 1946, she entered a Chicago Tribune “Design for Better Living” competition, earning a prize and the recognition which started her on a career of fabric design. In 1948, shortly after establishing her fabric design and silk-screening business in Detroit, she met and married Edward Schnee, a 1941 Yale graduate from Connecticut. He immediately became part of her creative life, making the silk screen prints that Schnee designed. His degree in economics would prove invaluable to their future endeavors.
Ruth Adler Schnee began winning prizes and recognition for her fabric designs almost immediately. Early awards include: the 1948 American Institute of Designers (A.I.D.) first award in printed fabrics for her design “Strata”; prizes, awards and honorable mentions in many of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) Michigan Artist-Craftsmen exhibitions, from 1949 and into the fifties; recognition in the International Textile Exhibitions at the University of North Carolina; and selection in the Young Designers competition at the Akron Art Institute in 1954.
Along with Schnee’s work in fabric design and interior space design, the couple owned and operated a design and retail establishment in Detroit, bringing mid-century modern décor and furnishings to the area. A carriage house behind the silk screen printing business on 12th St., in Detroit, was converted to a retail establishment, displaying some of the iconic designs first shown at the DIA’s artist and craftsmen exhibitions. The store moved to two other locations before settling in the historic Hemmeter building in downtown Detroit. With their landmark store Adler/Schnee, on Harmonie Park, they initiated and were influential in many of Detroit’s downtown activities. Their retail establishment was an early proponent of Michigan artists, providing a gallery for exhibitions, as well as presenting unique arts and crafts items from around the world, for which they traveled extensively. Edward Schnee was noted for his interest in, and promotion of, cooking utensils and gadgets, cooking-related events to promote them, and his ability to procure unusual items requested by customers.
The Schnees sold the store, building and name, in 1977. Following the sale, they continued their business as interior design and space consultants, under the name Schnee & Schnee, Ruth creating fabric designs and designing interior spaces, and Edward managing the business side of the company. (Eddie, as he was known, also gets credit for naming many of Schnee’s textile designs.) In 1992 Schnee signed a contract with ICF/Unika Vaev to have reproductions of her early fabrics reissued. While continuing to work with ICF, she began to work with Anzea in 1993, creating new designs and adapting her original silk-screen designs for woven textiles. The relationship continues to this day and Schnee’s textiles can be found in the Anzea catalog. Schnee has exhibited extensively over the years throughout the country. Principle exhibitions include: participation in the Detroit Institute of Arts Michigan Artists & Craftsmen Exhibitions; “From Postwar to Postmodern: Interior Textiles, 1946-1976” at the Hadley-Whitney Museum in Lexington, Kentucky; “What Modern Was, Design 1935-1965” at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Montreal; and “A Woman’s Hand, 1945-1969, Designing Textiles in America,” at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of America.” In 1995 her alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design, hosted a major retrospective, and in 2002 the Detroit Jewish Community Center recognized Schnee as “A Detroit Treasure.” In 2011, Schnee presented “A Textile Experience, a Passion for Color” at the Palazzo Mocenigo in Venice, Italy. In addition to a constant and continuing stream of residential design work, Schnee has had major commissions for interior space designs. They include working with Buckminster Fuller on the Ford Rotunda, and in Detroit, with Louis Redstone on Hannan House, and work for the Krolick School and the Johnson Recreation Center. She supplied retail items and design ideas for Eero Saarinen’s GM Tech Center. Schnee is fond of recounting that her design of a beautiful, draped Thaibok silk ceiling in the Tech Center’s executive dining room was firmly rejected by design executive Harley Earl in favor of something more masculine. She worked with her good friend Yamasaki designing some of the interiors for the World Trade Center. In 1983, Schnee & Schnee was awarded the design contract for the Jewish Community Center’s Edward and Freda Fleischman Residence and Louis and Edith Blumberg Plaza, over such competition as Albert Kahn Associates. It was a three-year project that involved learning how to adapt living space for senior citizens and the design of a Jewish chapel. The firm subsequently did work for a similar senior residence project in Minneapolis called Sholom Home. Edward Schnee died in Sept. 1, 2000 in Southfield, Michigan. Ruth lives in Southfield and Longboat Key, Florida, and continues to lecture, present exhibits and design interiors.
34.4 Linear Feet (28 MS, 1 SB, 10 OS)
Language of Materials
Ruth Adler Schnee (1923- ) is an internationally recognized award-winning fabric designer, interior designer, entrepreneur, and founding-figure of contemporary textile design in the United States. Her family fled Nazi Germany and settled in Detroit, Michigan where Ruth attended Cass Technical High School ('1942). A Rhode Island School of Design and Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate, she met and married Edward Schnee in 1948, and together they owned and operated Adler/Schnee, a design and retail establishment in downtown Detroit. The Schnee’s were very influential in the activities of downtown Detroit and their retail establishment served as an exhibition gallery for many Michigan artists. Upon the sale of the business in 1977, the Schnee’s continued to work as design consultants under the name Schnee & Schnee, with Ruth designing fabrics and interior spaces, and Edward managing the business. The collection primarily comprises of materials covering Ruth’s early years in Germany to the present. Included are materials related to her education including diplomas,school assignments, scrapbooks, drawings, and pattern and fashion illustration books; materials related to her personal life including diaries, and letters; materials relating to her professional life including records of projects and achievements, resumes, promotional materials, materials pertaining to exhibitions and lectures, items pertaining to the history of Adler/Schnee as well as Schnee & Schnee, information on Harmonie Park and the Hemmeter building, and materials relating to the building and interior design plans for several projects including Hannan House and the Metropolitan Detroit Jewish Community Center’s Residence for Jewish Elderly. The collection also includes textile designs, notebooks, and photographic materials.
The papers of Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee are divided into five series: Education (Boxes 1-2), Personal (Boxes 2-5), Professional (Boxes 5-28), Oversize Material (Boxes 29-38), and Photographs (Box 39; includes 4 slide cases).
Series III: Professional is futher divided into three subseries: Design Production, Business Records and Major Projects.
An index to the collection is available.
Architectural drawings have been cataloged in Cranbrook Academy of Art's library catalog.
Gift of Ruth Adler Schnee on May 17, 2010.
Select collection content has been digitized and can be accessed in Cranbrook Archives Digital Collections:
Audio and video materials were transferred to the audio/visual collection.
Processed and finding aid created by Cheri Y. Gay, 2011.
- Guide to the Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee Papers
- Original finding aid written by Cheri Y. Gay.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Edition statement
- Resource record created by Nichole L. Manlove.
Part of the Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research Repository