The Fashions of Ruth Adler Schnee

Sometimes it seems there are infinite possible discoveries within a single archives collection. Such is the case with the Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee Papers. Just over a year ago I wrote about the Schnees’ long-running Detroit retail business, Adler/Schnee, but I knew then that story was only the tip of the iceberg.  

And so I was happy to find myself returning recently to one of my favorite collections in the Archives. Replacing materials that had been on loan to the Cranbrook Art Museum for their exhibit, Ruth Adler Schnee: Modern Designs for Living, I was once again struck by her achievements as a high school student at Cass Technical High School in Detroit from 1940-1942. In particular, her skill at fashion design. Maybe it was the months of hearing about sweatpants and Zoom shirts, but it was so refreshing to spend a few moments remembering what real fashion means. 

Ruth Adler Schnee illustration, circa 1941. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Before Ruth Adler Schnee made a name for herself in interior design, including her iconic textile designs, she was interested in becoming a fashion designer. Attending Cass Tech afforded Ruth the opportunity to nurture her natural artistic talents, which are clearly evident in drawings from her primary school days. And, she had already shown an affinity for fashion design—out of necessity, Ruth had already been designing her own clothes since she was a 13-year-old Jewish girl in Nazi Germany (her family emigrated in 1939).

Amongst other documents in her collection, the story of Ruth’s high school years and her passion for fashion are perhaps best captured in three notebooks. One of my favorite boxes in the collection holds nothing but pages from a notebook entitled Dress Design VI. Labeled “hours 1-4″ it is clearly a class project, and one for which Ruth received high marks. Divided into four parts (Machine Attachments, Illustrative Material, Drafting Problems, and Analysis of Dresses), the book includes drawings, pattern pieces (not to scale), paper mockups of mainly women’s sportswear designs, samples of sewing technique (actual fabric pinned to the page), textile identification pages (with real fabric samples), and an essay on silk. 

Sleeve Form page, in “Notes on the Draping of Garments,” Ruth Adler Schnee, circa 1942. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
Continue reading

Balthazar Korab and his Island of Serenity

A great portion of the time I’ve spent as an archivist at Cranbrook has focused on our photo collections. It would be impossible for me to choose a favorite photo, but I definitely find that one photographer in particular always comes to mind when I get a photo request or when I conjure up an image of campus.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, architect and photographer Balthazar Korab (1926-2013) documented life and work here at Cranbrook for several decades. His iconic images continue to be some of our most requested.

Korab at work at Eero Saarinen and Associates, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Korab at work at Eero Saarinen and Associates, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Korab studied architecture at the Polytechnicum Jozsef Nador in Budapest until he felt the necessity to escape his country’s communist regime in 1949. He opted for France, where he continued his education at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, and received his degree in architecture there in 1954. During this time, Korab worked throughout Europe as a journeyman with notable architects, including Le Corbusier.

In 1955 he came to the United States and was hired by Eero Saarinen to work at Eero Saarinen and Associates (ESA). While Korab was worked there, he saw how Saarinen built models of his designs. Korab volunteered to use his knowledge of photography to develop techniques for dramatic photos of the models. This took him off the drawing board and he soon began to get assignments from other architects. What followed was an illustrious career photographing the works of many of the most significant architects world-wide, including: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gunner Birkerts, Minoru Yamasaki, Frank Lloyd Wright, and many others.

Yamasaki's model of the U.S. Pavilion at the World Agricultural Fair, India. Photograph by Balthazar Korab, ca 1959.

Yamasaki’s model of the U.S. Pavilion at the World Agricultural Fair, India. Photograph by Balthazar Korab, ca 1959.

Korab was introduced to Cranbrook during his time at ESA. In an interview for the Observer and Eccentric in June 1995, he said: “Arriving from a war-torn Europe, I soon was involved with Eero Saarinen’s GM Tech Center, a marvel of the dynamic, brash, wining face of America. It left me in awe and admiration. But my love went for the other Saarinen marvel, a then-middle-aged beauty, Cranbrook. It became a place of refuge and comfort, a source of nutrients for my severed roots to take hold in this strange soil. Its radiant aura was my inspiration.”

Oriental Garden bridge, Fall 1980. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

“Oriental Garden” bridge, Fall 1980. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

In the early 1980’s Korab was hired as one of several contract photographers here at Cranbrook. Over the next three decades, his images provided breath-taking panoramas, as well as minute details of the grounds, art, and architecture of this campus. The beauty of his work cannot be over-stated.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Editor’s Note: In an July 1998 article in ambassador magazine, Korab referred to Cranbrook Educational Community as his “island of serenity.”

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: