Adler/Schnee’s Flower Fiesta

Are you enjoying the snow this winter? Or do you need something to brighten your February mood? Have you considered fake flowers?

This week, as the country was pummeled by winter storms, I was busy in Cranbrook Archives researching for my History of American Architecture: Eero Saarinen and His Circle lecture series. One important member of Eero’s circle of designers? Ruth Adler Schnee.

Ruth, a 1946 graduate of Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Design Department, was known for her printed textiles, interior designs, and the store she operated with her husband, Edward, in Detroit from 1948 to the 1977. In Cranbrook Archives, we have the Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee Papers, which includes a wide variety of designs, notes, samples, and PR materials.

Adler/Schnee, Inc. on Harmonie Park. The design store was located at 240 Grand River East in Detroit between 1964 and 1977. Photograph February 1965. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

As I looked for materials related to Ruth’s work on the General Motors Technical Center—the subject of my lecture Monday—I came across this charming fold-out advertisement from the winter of 1966. Although it has nothing to do with my upcoming talk, it certainly brightened my mood, and I wanted to share it with you! The outside reads:

Sometimes it’s June in January…but at A/S it’s Bloomin’ February

The ad copy gets even better inside. Underneath a bright-pink line drawing of Scandinavian, Japanese, Danish, and Mexican home goods surrounded by Ferry-Morse seeds, a cat, birds, and flowers, it reads:

Stamp out snow with fake and fabulous flowers!

Put posies on everything—put posies in everything.

Color runs riot at Adler/Schnee Flower Fiesta

With kooky dried flowers ala Dr. Seuss; passionate pillows, dizzy dinnerware, palpitating papergoods, terrific totes and much marvelous more—all bursting with scintillating springtime.

Kick winter gloom and check Adler/Schnee, where even Harmonie Park itself is coming up new and exciting.

This pamphlet made me smile, and gets first prize in the alliterative Olympics. Based on other handwritten records in the Archives, it is possible Ruth herself wrote this little ditty (she wrote and designed much of the firm’s PR materials). Again based off other mailers, it seems likely the Schnees mailed out between 5,000 and 15,000 of these large fold-out advertisements.

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Le Corbusier Comes to Cranbrook

On November 21, 1935, celebrated French architect Le Corbusier arrived in Detroit and promptly demanded to be taken to Henry Ford’s River Rouge Complex. That one of the world’s leading modernist architects wanted to visit Ford’s factory shouldn’t have been too surprising, as for the previous two decades Le Corbusier—born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret—had been advocating for a revolution in architecture like Ford’s revolution in transportation.

In his groundbreaking 1923 book, Toward an Architecture (or, as it was titled in its first English translations, Towards a New Architecture,) Le Corbusier made the famous claim, “A house is a machine for living in.” As he believed, “Machines will lead to a new order both of work and of leisure.”

Le Corbusier told reporter Florence Davies of the Detroit News that “Detroit is the logical city for the production of the houses of tomorrow, the pre-fabricated efficient mass-production house.” He went on to claim that it would be automobile manufacturers, not architects, who would “undertake the production of the homes of tomorrow” because they understood the problems of mass production.

But while Ford may have attracted Le Corbusier to visit Detroit during the his one and only trip to America, it was Cranbrook Academy of Art and its president Eliel Saarinen that played host to the great architect.

Le Corbusier, with pipe, and Eliel Saarinen at Cranbrook, November 1935. Richard G. Askew, photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

After seeing the Ford complex and a making a few stops downtown, Le Corbusier wound his way up to Bloomfield Hills. On display in the Cranbrook Pavilion (now St. Dunstan’s Theater) were twenty-four enlarged photographs, a selection of movies, fourteen building and city plans, and a single model documenting his work. These items were part of a small show on the architect open from November 19 to November 22. But the main event was Le Corbusier’s lecture at 8:00pm on November 21, 1935.

Delivered in French and translated by his American associate Robert Jacobs, Le Corbusier enthralled an at-capacity audience with his theories of architecture. He spoke of his work in Europe, including the recently completed Villa Savoye in Poissy. The focus, however, were his theories of city planning and mechanization. Le Corbusier used a sheet of tracing paper some 8- to 12-feet-long and pinned along the wall to execute large, colorful pastel sketches that illustrated his ideas of architecture and planning. This drawing was saved by the Academy, though it has since, sadly, been lost.

Installation view of Modern Architecture:
International Exhibition
at the Museum of Modern Art with Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye at center and in photographs on left, February 9–March 23, 1932. While no photographs of Le Corbusier’s lecture or exhibition at Cranbrook survive, it was likely similar to this installation. MoMA Archives.

Le Corbusier lectured throughout most of his career as an architect. As he told an interviewer in 1951:

I never prepare my lectures…Improvisation is a wonderful thing: I draw, and when you draw and speak at the same time, you create something new. And all my theory—my introspection and retrospection on the phenomenon of architecture and urbanism—derives from my improvisation and drawings during these lectures.

After the Cranbrook lecture, Le Corbusier was the guest of the Academy of Art’s Executive Secretary Richard Raseman and Instructor in Interior Design Rachel DeWolfe Raseman. The couple had both studied architecture at Cornell (Rachel Raseman was Cornell’s first woman architecture graduate) and resided at Academy Residence #3 across Academy Way from Saarinen House. In the morning, Le Corbusier continued by train to the next stop on his cross-country journey.

As the Detroit Free Press reported November 22, “With a few deft strokes Thursday, Le Corbusier, the famous French modernist-architect…sketched the vision that he sees through what is perhaps the most ponderous pair of eyeglasses ever fabricated.”

Le Corbusier in his famous eyeglasses at Cranbrook, November 1935. Richard G. Askew, photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

Alongside an earlier lecture in April 1935 by Frank Lloyd Wright, the visit to Cranbrook by Le Corbusier was one of the highlights of the Academy’s first decade. Reflecting in his Annual Report to the Cranbrook Foundation, Richard Raseman wrote that:

The Le Corbusier lecture, although delivered in French, was a good show, and as he is a world figure we were well satisfied…the public must have agreed with us as these lectures [by Wright and Le Corbusier] were by far the best attended of any of our functions…men of this caliber are rare indeed.

To learn more about Le Corbusier and his visit to Cranbrook, sign up for the Center’s History of American Architecture: Cranbrook Visitors Lecture Series! For the next five weeks, I will be discussing visitors, like Le Corbusier, who have lectured at Cranbrook since the Academy opened in 1932. From Le Corbusier, Wright, and Alvar Aalto in the 1930s through to Jeanne Gang, Greg Pasquarelli, and David Adjaye in the 2010s, I will tell the story of American design through architects who’ve spoken at Cranbrook. Learn more and sign up on our website. “See” you Monday at 11:00am or 7:00pm EST for our first virtual lecture!

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

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