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How the World Finally Caught up with Mid-century Modern Design Pioneer Ruth Adler Schnee

April 22, 2020

In this Detroit MetroTimes article, Ana Gavrilovska examines the life of one of the last living mid-century designers, Ruth Adler Schnee. Adler Schnee cultivated her career against a variety of odds and at 96 years old, she recounts her life and influence in modernism for readers. 

From an early age, Adler Schnee grew to love art and design. Her mother was a student at the Bauhaus school. Furthermore, she attributes  a risky visit to the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Düsseldorf, organized by the Nazi regime when she was 14 years old as one of her ealiest influences. Adler Schnee’s education and career continued to blossom when her family moved to the United States. She studied interior design at Rhode Island School of Design and after working professionally in New York, entered Cranbrook on a fellowship and became the first woman to graduate from Cranbrook with a MFA in Design. Learning from modernist greats such as Raymond Loewy (1893–1986), Warren Platner (1919–2006) and Minoru Yamasaki (1912–1986) Adler Schnee gained an interest in architecture. The use of color in the lobby of the World Trade Center can be attributed to her. She would also cross paths with Charles Eames (1907–1978) and Eero Saarinen (1910–1961). 

In later years, textiles would become her focus. She soon became known for her colorful, vibrant screen printed patterns and woven designs, much of which is influenced by her work with modernist architecture and, of course, Bauhaus modernist design principles. As recent as 2015, she became a Kresge Eminent Artist and signed a 20-year contract with Knoll Textiles. With such a well-rounded career in modern design, it is no wonder she tells people she is inspired “by everything.”

“How the world finally caught up with mid-century modern design pioneer Ruth Adler Schnee,” Detroit MetroTimes, February 26, 2020.

Ruth Adler Schnee working with designs. Photo courtesy of Detroit MetroTimes.