Ruth Adler Schnee is one of those people that have lived through a great deal of adversity and have come out on top. Her family escaped the Nazis in Germany as a teenager before settling in Detroit. Then, despite being the first woman to earn a graduate degree in architecture from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, no firm would hire a woman at the time.
Even when she entered a residential design contest in 1946, she could not find the appropriate fabric to match the house she designed. So she did what any person would do when met with this kind of dilemma, she made her own fabric. At the age of 91, when most people would be retired, Ruth is still creating textile designs.
Ruth Adler Schnee is best known for her bold, colorful, and lyrically ebullient abstract designs that placed her within the vanguard of postwar modernism. Despite her age, she recently signed a 20-year contract with Knoll, the biggest name in classic modern design.
The Troy-based Kresge Foundation named her the 2015 Kresge Eminent Artist, for her contributions to Detroit culture and the broader world of modern design. Announced on January 29, the $50,000 lifetime achievement prize comes along with a parade of museum exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe, catalogs and a documentary film.
Schnee has always made a significant local impact, first by introducing Detroit to postwar modernism through her interior design studio and custom hand printed silkscreen-on-fabric designs. She also ran the Adler-Schnee stores with her late husband, and they were among the first in the country to sell modern furniture and fabrics. She has collaborated with some of the most famous architects and designers of her era, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen, Albert Kahn, Buckminster Fuller, and more.
Due to working most of her career in obscurity, the Kresge award, and all the international attention, has left her very humbled. She is grateful, but admits that rather than being in her studio designing new works than being fussed over.