Ruth Adler Schnee, Exuberant Designer of Modernist Textiles, Dies at 99


They married in 1948 and opened their store within a few months.

Their partnership was rare for the time: She was the designer, and he was the detail guy who ran the printing operation and the business. He named all her textiles — monikers like Pins and Needles, Fission Chips and Seedy Weeds — for which she found inspiration in both the natural and built worlds; her garden, the lit windows of skyscrapers, railroad yards and construction sites all made their way into her designs. She dressed as boldly as her designs, favoring rich colors like red, fuchsia and orange.

It was a moment when textiles went from being merely decorative to being a medium for contemporary design, and she was a pioneer of that crossover. Andrew Blauvelt, director of the Cranbrook Art Museum, which showed a retrospective of Ms. Adler Schnee’s work in the fall of 2019, said in a phone interview that she was “one of the more important textile designers of midcentury modernism.”

Ms. Adler Schnee was also a sought-after residential and commercial interior designer who worked with architects like Mr. Yamasaki, Paul Rudolph, Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller, as well as numerous private clients. Over her long career, she designed department stores, restaurants, health care facilities and even a Roman Catholic chapel. (The design store closed in 1977.)

The architecture and design critic Alexandra Lange, in a phone interview, described the postwar milieu in which female designers like Ms. Adler Schnee were remaking the American home.

“All these modern houses were being built, and people needed modern fabrics and furniture to put in them,” Ms. Lange said. “The architecture profession was still prejudiced against women, and the areas where they were allowed to thrive were textiles and interior design — areas which, in theory, catered to women and in which they were believed to have some innate talent.”

Ruth Adler, the only daughter of Joseph and Marie (Salomon) Adler, was born on May 13, 1923, in Frankfurt, Germany, and grew up in Düsseldorf. Her father’s family had an antiquarian bookstore, where he worked for a time before becoming a real estate investor. Her mother was artistic; she had studied painting at the Hans Hoffman School in Munich and calligraphy at the Bauhaus School in Weimar. Paul Klee was among the artists in the Adlers’ social circle.



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