Q&A: Trailblazing Detroit Designer Ruth Adler Schnee

At 98, Ruth Adler Schnee reflects on the important names she’s known—Wright, Klee, Eames, Calder—and the career she’s led.

Ruth Adler Schnee’s design journey spans the birth and resurgence of midcentury modernism. Born in Frankfurt in 1923, she comes from an intellectual Jewish family that escaped Nazism and settled in Detroit shortly after Kristallnacht. She trained in architectural design at several prestigious schools before launching a career in textiles, creating fabrics distinguished by vivid colors and abstract shapes. In Detroit she collaborated with such masters as Minoru Yamasaki, Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard, Paul Rudolph, and Frank Lloyd Wright and promoted modern design at Adler-Schnee, the studio and housewares store she opened with her husband in 1949. After seven decades of work and numerous awards, the nonagenarian shows no signs of slowing. She continues to design for KnollTextiles and Anzea, and this winter she gave a lecture in Palm Springs on modernism’s ongoing evolution. 

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