Adler/Schnee: A Detroit Institution

Today is Black Friday, but did you know tomorrow is Small Business Saturday? Started nine years ago to encourage patronage of locally owned and operated shops, this Saturday after Thanksgiving event isn’t the first attempt to attract shoppers to help sustain a neighborhood economy. In Detroit in the 1960s and 70s, few did it with more aplomb and civic mindedness than Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee.

While assisting Cranbrook Art Museum staff with preparation for their upcoming exhibit Ruth Adler Schnee – Modern Designs for Living, I had the opportunity to learn more about Ruth and Edward’s Detroit retail business. Started in 1948 as a fabric design and silk screening business on 12th Street, it was their flagship store (and final location of four) that especially caught my interest. It was this store that uniquely illustrates Edward’s business acumen, Ruth’s design talent, and the couple’s dedication to the city of Detroit.


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Flyer for Harmonie Park store opening, 1964. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

When Adler/Schnee moved its operation of sixteen years from Northwest Detroit to Harmonie Park in 1964, its owners had more than just profits in mind. In form letters found in their collection, Ed Schnee writes to announce the official opening of their new location:

Since your interest and concern in the future of ‘Downtown Detroit’ is well known and ably evidenced, you may be interested to know that … we have recently moved. Mrs. Schnee and I have watched the growth of the central city with great interest for the past several years and now feel that we can make a contribution to this growth and participate actively in the new manifestation of vitality in Downtown and confidently link our future to this area. It is our earnest desire to so conduct our specialty shop that it will be a stimulating force in the Central Business District and in particular, Harmonie Park, which we feel has the potentiality of a charming little Parisian Square.

That December, Adler/Schnee had already banded with local merchants in events designed to create interest in the neighborhood and its businesses. As the November 11, 1964 Downtown Monitor stated: “It begins to look as though the wise merchants of Harmonie Park are going to create a stir among less aware business men [of] the downtown area. Watch for their latest combined effort, “Holiday Lark on Harmonie Park” – complete with a rolling chestnut roaster, popcorn wagon, gay holiday decorations and maybe even a choral concert by the Club Harmonie itself.”

Adler/Schnee’s advertisement  for the event demonstrates their enthusiasm, “Adler/Schnee FUN FAIR: Fabulous Fripperies, Frivolous Fantasies, Functional Furnishings from far-flung lands. For family – friends – home – office – etc.” A version of ‘Holiday Lark’ was still going strong in 1976, as evidenced by a Detroit Free Press headline: “A Languorous Experience – Harmonie Park in Tune with the Season” and this flyer:


Christmas Walk event flyer with logo designed by Ruth Adler Schnee. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

These holiday events were just one of many Harmonie Park happenings, and until the business was sold in 1977, the Schnee’s ‘modern general store’ was an important part of Detroit’s economic and cultural history. A mainstay in an enclave of art-related commerce, also anchored by the Detroit Artists’ Market, Ruth and Edward’s retail store became a destination. The many clippings, correspondence, and advertisements in their collection are testament to a business philosophy that encompassed their immediate surroundings, with such efforts as the Harmonie Park Improvement Plan, and the purchase of their building in 1971 to preserve its 1901 architecture and utilize its seven floors to create a design center. Throughout a period that would span both civil and economic upheaval, Adler/Schnee was a bright spot (literally and figuratively) in the city’s landscape.

Read more about the Schnee’s retail business or learn more about the remarkable designer, Ruth Adler Schnee, in the Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee Papers, or in the upcoming Schnee exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, December 14th through March 15, 2020.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

To Protect and (Pre)serve

Our guest blogger this week is Kate Nummer, a Graduate Student in Eastern Michigan University’s Historic Preservation Program. She will receive her Master of Science in Historic Preservation in December 2019.



Late in the spring, I was a part of the Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation Field School hosted at Cranbrook (read about the amazing week here). That week I discovered what a magical place Cranbrook is, and was inspired to ask Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research Associate Registrar, Leslie Mio, about doing my graduate final project here. The Center agreed to have me, so after three years of working hard on my Masters, I’m finishing up here at Cranbrook. I have worked closely with Leslie two days a week since August, mainly focusing on the Smith House and “other duties as assigned.”


The Smith House is a beautiful Usonian Frank Lloyd Wright house (1950) that was owned by Melvyn Smith and his wife Sara. Cranbrook acquired the house by donation in 2017. The main project I have been working on is numbering objects and updating The Museum System (TMS, Cranbrook’s digital database of objects) as we go along. This has been a monumental job: not only did Cranbrook acquire the house in 2017, but also everything that was in it – over 1,800 objects!


Numbering a jar in Smith House. Photo by author.

Numbering a jar in Smith House. Photo by author.

Numbering objects isn’t for everyone, it is a slow and repetitive task. But, it gives me a chance to look over the object, confirm that the location is recorded correctly in TMS, make any additional notes about its appearance, and even appreciate the object itself.

Here I am working in the kitchen of Smith House. Photo by author.

My final report for my degree won’t just be about numbering, but about collection management. This is considered the development, storage, preservation, and organization of collections and cultural heritage. I am consulting resources like MRM5: Museum Registration Methods by Rebecca Buck, and Things Great and Small by John E. Simmons, and applying information gleaned to what Leslie and I are doing in Smith House.


Other duties I have had since August: helping prepare a disaster kit for Smith House, so objects and people remain safe in the event of a disaster (especially since it’s off the main campus); meeting with conservators who are helping to restore furniture in the house;  helping prepare for the Center’s fundraiser “A House Party at Cranbrook”; rolling textiles for better storage; and helping move and process new donations.


I say, “other duties as assigned” because one thing I’ve learned in my semester at Cranbrook: the work of a registrar is never boring. We may have our main plan mapped out, but sometimes you must go with the flow.


Kate Nummer, Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation Program 2019

Discovering the University of Michigan in the collections of Cranbrook Archives

In October, the University of Michigan Osher Lifelong Learning group visited Cranbrook for a lecture, luncheon, and tours of our historic houses, the Art Museum, and Cranbrook Archives. In gathering materials related to the university, I found that my growing archival display began to tell a wonderful story of the early relationship between the Booth family and the University of Michigan, predominantly between 1918 and 1924. The story begins with the friendship of George Booth and Emil Lorch.

Born in Detroit in 1870, Lorch had studied at MIT and Paris, before graduating Master of Arts at Harvard in 1903. In 1906, he arrived at the University of Michigan to establish the School of Architecture, which remained a unit of the School of Engineering until 1931. The correspondence between Booth and Lorch covers a manifold of topics over many years.


On January 11, 1918, George Booth gave an address to the students of the departments of Journalism and Architecture at the university, entitled The Spirit of Journalism and Architecture which focused on the development of the Detroit News business and the new News building, which had been recently completed.

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Program for an address, The Spirit of Journalism and Architecture, delivered by George Booth at the University of Michigan, January 11, 1918. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Later that year, in October, George’s son, Henry Scripps Booth began his studies in architecture at the university. It was there that he met J. Robert F. Swanson, with whom he traveled Europe for ten months beginning in June 1922, and later established the architectural practice Swanson and Booth between 1924 and 1926. Henry took with him letters of endorsement to help facilitate access to architectural treasures on their journey, including one from Professor Lorch:

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Letter of introduction for Henry Booth from Emil Lorch, July 17, 1922. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Eliel Saarinen arrived at the University of Michigan as a Visiting Professor at the invitation of Emil Lorch the next year, staying from September 1923 through 1925. To extend a warm welcome, Henry wrote, costumed, and performed in a pageant in honor of Saarinen. Many of Henry’s classmates performed in the pageant, including Ralph Calder and J. Robert F. Swanson, who also designed the program. The event took place on December 8, 1923, in the Michigan Union ballroom. Many of the members of the Michigan Society of Architects and the Michigan branch of the American Institute of Architects were present. During the dinner, George G. Booth made the principal address of welcome to Eliel.

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Program for A Pageant of Arts and Crafts, a Reception for Eliel Saarinen, program design by J. Robert F. Swanson, December 1923. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

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Interior of the program. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Henry and Robert graduated from the University of Michigan in 1924. Graduating with them was Ralph Calder, who was also one of the first two students to win the George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship, with which he traveled to England, France, and Italy. The fellowship continues to this day. Calder was among the original staff of the Cranbrook Architectural Office, working on Cranbrook School and Thornlea House. He later went on to design many buildings for colleges and universities in Michigan, including Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, Hope College, and Hillsdale College.

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Letter concerning the Booth Traveling Fellowship from the first recipient Ralph Calder to George G. Booth, June 12, 1924. Notice the Michigan logo on the letterhead. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In another Cranbrook connection, Ralph Rapson submitted a Fellowship entry in 1938, and, while he didn’t win, his submission impressed Eliel Saarinen so much that Rapson was given a scholarship to the Art Academy.


Ralph Rapson’s submission to the George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship, AD.26.01.03. Ralph Rapson Architectural Drawing Collection, Cranbrook Archives. Gift of Rip Rapson.

There is much more in our collections about the University of Michigan; this post has selected items covering only the early years. In preparing for the Osher tour, I realized that, while the contents of processed archival collections remain the same, what we find in them depends on the question being asked. The collections of George G. Booth, Henry S. Booth, the Cranbrook Foundation, Swanson Associates, Inc. are among the most highly used and yet there is always something new to learn, something wonderful to discover.

— Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Online Exhibition: Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994

This week, we’re proud to announce that the Center is launching its first online exhibition! With the tireless efforts of the Center’s Administrative Assistant and resident website guru, Alissa Seelmann-Rutkofske, we have adapted my 2018 exhibition Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994 for the web.


Installation view of Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994. You can learn much more about the content of the show in the new online exhibition, or learn about the display system here. July 2018, Meng Li, photographer.

The show, which was on display in Saarinen House from April to November 2018, focuses on the first five Presidents of Cranbrook Academy of Art. These were the only five leaders to live in Saarinen House (built to be the President’s residence) and the only five who held the title “President” (we now have Directors of the Academy and a President of Cranbrook Educational Community).

In the online exhibition, you will learn about President Eliel Saarinen and the four subsequent presidents: Zoltan Sepeshy, Glen Paulsen, Wallace Mitchell, and Roy Slade. Each man’s page features a short biography, history of their artistic practice, and an account of the Academy under their leadership. Their tenure is documented through photographs from Cranbrook Archives, showing the presidents and their era of the Academy (including publications, Museum exhibitions, protests, parties, and other examples of student life and strife).

You’ll also find an Exhibition Checklist of the paintings and drawings from each president that were included in the show; click on the title of each work to see a larger image. Also online are photographs of the Exhibition Installation and information about the design and construction of our custom-made displays.

Exhibitions are a lot of research and work, and once they’re deinstalled it can feel like all the effort was for naught. Using the show’s text and images, documentary photography from P.D. Rearick, and with the encouragement of the Center’s Director, Greg Wittkopp, I am happy that Presidents/Residents and the efforts that went into its physical production will live on in digital form. Please go take a click around, and let me know what you think.

Kevin with the Drill

“My work here is done!” The curator in a moment of repose during the installation of Presidents/Residents. Seen sitting in a Platner chair that belonged to Roy Slade, and is currently back in use at the Academy administration offices, but was used in Saarinen House from 1977 to around 1990 and again during the exhibition. April 2018, Ashley Bigham, photographer.

Look for digital documentation of our other past exhibitions soon, and don’t miss your last chance to see this year’s show (in person): Studio Loja Saarinen: The Art and Architecture of Weaving, 1928-1942, on view with all Saarinen House tours through Thanksgiving weekend.

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

Hibernation Mode

Have you noticed? Cranbrook campus is awash in color!


Kingswood School, 1980. Balthazar Korab, photographer. View of the rear of Kingswood Campus from across Kingswood Lake. Sculpture “Dancing Girls” by Carl Milles in distance. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives. S.08.263

The drive in every morning, a walk outside, or a quick glance out the window, and it’s hard to miss.

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Cranbrook Academy of Art: Maija Grotell Court, circa 1944. Color transparency. Copyright Cranbrook Archives. 2007-1-C70

But like every year, just as the foliage begins turning brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges, it is soon falling to the ground. Squirrels scurry past, busy adding to their winter store. The Triton Pools are emptied. A trash can marked “Salt” mysteriously appears along the walk by the Academy Studios. The air is crisp; the days shorter. Fall is undeniably here. And Winter – just around the corner.


Oriental Garden Bridge, Fall 1980. Balthazar Korab, photographer. View of the red bridge over the pond in the Japanese Garden. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives. S.04.83

While musing on this rite of seasonal change, I happened to come across an article written in the Cranbrook Institute of Science News Letter [sic], November 1949  (Vol. 19, No. 3), apropos to my current mood. It was titled: “The Hibernation of Plants,” by Stanley A. Cain. It begins:

“Had you been a wealthy Roman you would have owned what you called an hibernaculum, or winter residence, somewhere on the sunny warmer shores of the Mediterranean … but the theme of these few pages is the hibernation of plants … plants do not migrate with the changing seasons, induced by shortening days and the onset of cold or drought, but are mostly rooted to the earth and must stand and take it.”

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Botrychium virginianum (Rattlesnake Fern), Burt Lake, MI, August 15, 1945. Robert T. Hatt, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives. CIS B3980

Most of us Michiganders must stand and take it, as well. But, as humans, we weather the colder temperatures by finding comfort in a warm fire, a snug scarf, or a hot mug of our favorite beverage. Plants – well, plants have other coping mechanisms.

In his article, Cain elaborates on the structural and functional changes plants undergo in “preparing for the difficult times ahead.” Central to the scientific discussion, Cain includes the importance of buds, seeds, and root structures for deciduous perennials.

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Flora and Fauna. Undated. Copyright Cranbrook Archives. CIS B2483

Stanley Cain was a botanist on staff at Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) from 1946-1950, who became well-known as a conservationist. In fact, he was awarded the CIS Mary Soper Pope Award in 1969 for distinguished accomplishment in plant science.

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Thomson, Cain, Katz, Messner, & Thompson (l to r), June 21, 1949. Luella Schroeder, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives. CIS B3648

His article on plant hibernation is typical of CIS newsletters from 1931-1968, which included feature articles illuminating research conducted by its scientific staff. CIS had an ambitious program of research and publication since its inception, and botany was long a main focus. According to the first annual report, the Division of Botany was one of eight original scientific divisions. In 1949, over 30 staff publications are listed in the annual report, a quarter of those on vegetation. The News Letter [sic] was published for Institute members, and summarized developments and events on a monthly basis, September through May, from 1931 to the mid-1980s. In 1993 it became Science Scope and continues to be published under that name on a quarterly basis today.

While the article itself is intriguing and particularly interesting to botany enthusiasts, it is the accompanying drawings that captivate me.


Cover botanical drawing [ink on paper] by James Carmel, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.


Reminiscent of the recent popularity of vintage botanical specimen school charts  or nature illustrations, like those of Julia Rothman, these drawings point to the function of illustration in the research process. Here, before me, was a classic example of ‘art meeting science’. A topic (drawing as an analytic tool), in fact, addressed in the 2013/2014 Cranbrook Art Museum exhibit, which included Stanley Cain’s own drawings.

But these drawings were not Cain’s! Cain often used Academy of Art students for  illustrators, as indicated by another 1949 article, “Plants and Vegetation as Exhaustible Resources,” which feature drawings by Matt Kahn. In the case of the hibernation article, however, the illustrations are attributed to Jim Carmel,  Cranbrook Institute of Science Preparator, circa 1944-1973 (prior to WWII he had been Assistant Preparator). Better known for his work with the Institute’s exhibits, Carmel was educated as an artist and designer. In the 1949 annual report he is listed as Artist and Preparator under the division of Arts of Exhibition and Illustration.

Carmel’s papers were graciously donated by his son in 2016, but unfortunately do not cover his years at Cranbrook. CIS Office of the Director Records only include Carmel’s exhibit design work. The newsletter remains the only known record of these early drawings, striking as they are, in their black & white simplicity.


Drawing [scratchboard] of seed pods by James Carmel, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.


Drawing [scratchboard] of plant tubers and root structures by James Carmel, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.


Exploring the natural world around us in both a scholarly and creative fashion is the very essence of Cranbrook. The next time you’re on campus, instead of thinking, “oh, there’s a pretty tree!”, consider the myriad ways in which Cranbrook’s flora has inspired scientific study and artistic endeavor. This may just spark your enthusiasm for learning more about nature, and deepen your appreciation of our landscape in all its Fall glory as it prepares to hibernate for the Winter.

–Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

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