Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once quoted: “I call architecture frozen music.”
Ruth Adler Schnee patterned her goals around this quote. With hard work and commitment, she led the pathway for young women to obtain a future in design and architecture.
Ruth was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1923 to parents Joseph and Marie Adler. Her mother was a talented artist. When she was 15 years old, the Adlers’ life in Germany was turned upside down by the Nazi regime, and their home was destroyed during the Kristallnacht pogom, and her father was taken to the Dachau Concentration Camp; which he survived. This forced Ruth’s family to flee to America, where they settled in Detriot, Michigan.
After moving to Michigan, her education soared. Ruth enrolled at Cass Technical High School, where she excelled in art. In 1944, she studied under Walter Gropius at Harvard University, after receiving a fellowship to the Harvard University School of Architecture and Design. In 1945, she received a bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island School of Design while interning with Raymond Loewy in New York City. Soon after, Ruth received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art. Ruth was the first Jewish woman to receive a master’s degree in architecture from the college. In the same year, she studied architecture with Eliel Saarinen, and that is where her spark of interest in textile design began.
In 1948, Ruth married the love of her life, Edward Schnee. Edward was a Yale University graduate with a degree in business administration. Ruth and Edward were a powerhouse when growing their business.
“It was very helpful that he knew business, because artists don’t really understand business,” Ruth laughed. “Eddie really knew how to run a business. Together, we made a wonderful combination. We were a team.”
The couple opened the Adler-Schnee store in Detroit; where they were among the first to sell modern furniture, fabrics and home furnishings. In 1952, Ruth worked on Bucky Fuller's iconic Ford Rotunda, in Dearborn Michigan, by supplying the drapery. Ruth’s work was also included in the General Motors Technical Center designed by Eero Saarinen and Minoru Yamasaki’s World Trade Center in New York. Ruth’s work was involved with collaborations with some of the greatest architects of all time icluding Frank Llyod Wright.
Ruth has received numerous awards throughout her career. For her textile designs, she received the American Institute of Decorators Award for printed textiles four times between 1947 and 1958. The awards kept multiplying from Home and Garden magazine, the Chicago Tribune and many more until 2015. In 1976, Ruth was given a key to the city of Detroit. In 2012, a documentary was released called The Radiant Sun: Ruth Adler Schnee.
Ruth now lives at The Inn at Garden Plaza in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she still inspires and shares her stories. She remembers that the world of architecture, design and business was particularly hard for women and is grateful that women have come along way since she started in her chosen professional career.
“You have to be totally committed to what you are doing, “says Ruth. “I loved what I was doing to where I would lose track of time. Love what you do; it makes life so much easier.”