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Lifelong learning

by Jenna Weissman Joselit on June 1st, 2015

I’m often stimulated and provoked, engaged and engrossed. On occasion, I’m even moved. Rarely, though, am I inspired. Usually, it takes a lot to get those juices going, but within minutes of meeting Ruth Adler Schnee last week, inspired, I was.

Ruth Adler Schnee. Lamplights. Credit/

Ruth Adler Schnee. Lamplights/

Now in her 90s, the textile artist and champion of mid-century Modernist design was the highlight of a symposium — in effect, its guest of honor — that was held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in connection with one of its current exhibitions, “Designing Home.” Several of her eye-popping textiles are on display.

What’s so striking about Ruth Adler Schnee isn’t just that she’s a recipient of the 2015 Kresge Eminent Artist award or the subject of “The Radiant Sun,” a vibrant documentary about her long and distinguished career, which took her from Dusseldorf to Detroit, where she married, raised a family, ran a business, and pursued her art. And pursues it, still.

Ruth Adler Schnee. The Country Fair. Credit:

Ruth Adler Schnee. Country Fair/

It’s more a matter of her sensibility. At once girlish and whimsical, witty and knowing, humble yet commanding, she’s as multi-dimensional as her textiles, which incorporate and make use of her distinctive sense of style.

You might think that the dislocations of time, space and history would result in a somber palette or a predilection for rigidly geometrical shapes. But that’s not the case, not by a long shot. Her palette is awash in bright colors and the forms that inhabit her textiles are winsome. You look at them and smile.

It’s been a week since I first met Ruth Adler Schnee and I’m still smiling. Now, that’s what I call inspiration.

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