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Sold Archive: Modern Textiles

Bugs in Booby Trap screen-printed cotton
Ruth Adler Schnee
American, 1947
86 x 49.375 in. (218.4 x 125.4 cm)
Over the course of her half-century career, Ruth Adler Schnee's numerous awards acknowledge her significant contributions to modern design in the United States. As a designer of interiors and furnishing textiles, Schnee has collaborated with preeminent architects—including Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, and Eero Saarinen—and her wide-ranging commissions encompass residential, commercial, and civic projects.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1923, to intellectual and artistic Jewish parents, Schnee's creative talents were encouraged by her parents when she was a young girl. From the early 1930s, the Adlers' lives were increasingly impacted by the rise of National Socialism and in 1939, the family immigrated to the United States, settling in Detroit. Schnee first attended Cass Technical High School, taking classes in drawing, fashion illustration, and pattern making. After graduating in 1942, she received a scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design where she changed her focus from fashion illustration to interior architecture. Before embarking on a fellowship for a Master's Degree at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1945, Schnee worked for Raymond Loewy, one of the leading midcentury industrial designers. In 1948, she married Edward Schnee who became her business partner and collaborator. Between 1949 and 1977, Adler-Schnee, the retail establishment of this formidable husband-and-wife team, was instrumental in promoting modernist glassware, ceramics, furniture, and textiles by European and American designers to Detroit residents.

Bugs in Booby Trap dates to the earliest years of Schnee's involvement with fabric production. While working on an architectural project at Cranbrook, she realized her dissatisfaction with the drapery materials that were currently on the market and set out to design and make her own. The positive response to her abstract-patterned curtains led to the opening of her own silk-screen printing studio in 1947 and the following year, she and Edward founded Adler-Schnee to produce her textiles.

Still active, Schnee is currently under contract to Knoll to produce textile designs. A 2012 documentary, The Radiant Sun: Designer Ruth Adler Schnee celebrates her prodigious career, and she was one of the featured designers in the 2015 exhibition, Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

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