Kenneth Snelson

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Kenneth Snelson
Kenneth Snelson Needle Tower.JPG
Needle Tower II by Kenneth Snelson (1969) at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Netherlands
Born (1927-06-29)June 29, 1927
Died December 22, 2016(2016-12-22) (aged 89)
Nationality American
Education University of Oregon
Black Mountain College
Fernand Léger in Paris.
Known for Sculpture, Photography

Kenneth Duane Snelson (June 29, 1927 – December 22, 2016) was an American contemporary sculptor and photographer. His sculptural works are composed of flexible and rigid components arranged according to the idea of 'tensegrity'. Snelson preferred the descriptive term floating compression.

Snelson said his former professor Buckminster Fuller took credit for Snelson's discovery of the concept that Fuller named tensegrity. Fuller gave the idea its name, combining 'tension' and 'structural integrity.' Ironically Kārlis Johansons had exhibited tensegrity sculptures several years before Snelson was even born. The height and strength of Snelson's sculptures, which are often delicate in appearance, depend on the tension between rigid pipes and flexible cables.


Snelson was born in Pendleton, Oregon, in 1927. He studied at the University of Oregon in Eugene, at the Black Mountain College,[1] and with Fernand Léger in Paris. His sculpture and photography have been exhibited at over 25 one-man shows in galleries around the world including the structurally seminal Park Place Gallery in New York in the 1960s. Snelson also did research on the shape of the atom. Snelson continued to work in his SoHo studio, occasionally collaborating with animator Jonathan Monaghan.[2] He lived in New York City with his wife, Katherine.

He held five United States patents: #3,169,611: Discontinuous Compression Structures, February, 1965; #3,276,148: Model for Atomic Forms, October, 1966; #4,099,339: Model for Atomic Forms, July, 1978; and #6,017,220: Magnetic Geometric Building System; and most recently, #6,739,937: Space Frame Structure Made by 3-D Weaving of Rod Members, May 25, 2004.

Snelson was a founding member of ConStruct, the artist-owned gallery that promoted and organized large-scale sculpture exhibitions throughout the United States. Other founding members include Mark di Suvero, John Raymond Henry, Lyman Kipp and Charles Ginnever.

After suffering from prostate cancer, Snelson died on December 22, 2016 at the age of 89.[3]

Honours and awards

  • (1999) Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award, International Sculpture Center.

Sculptures in public collections and public spaces

United States



  • City Boots, 1968, J. Patrick Lannon Foundation, Los Angeles
  • Mozart I, 1982, Stanford University, Palo Alto

District of Columbia


  • Newport, 1968, M. Margulies, Coconut Grove


  • Four Module Piece, 1968, Terrell Mill Park, Iowa City


  • Virlane Tower, 1981, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA, New Orleans




  • Indexer II, 2001, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • B-Tree II, 2005, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids


  • Triple Crown, 1991, Hallmark, Inc. Kansas City


New York

New Jersey

  • Northwood II, 1970, Compton Quad, Graduate College, Princeton, Mercer

North Carolina






  • Northwood, 1969, Northwood Institute, Cedar Hills


  • "Hard Wired", Bennington (College)




  • Soft Landing, 1975–77, Berlin Nationalgalerie, Berlin
  • Avenue K, 1968, City of Hannover

The Netherlands

  • Easy-K, 1970, Sonsbeek ‘70, Arnhem
  • Needle Tower II, 1969, Kröller Müller Museum, Otterlo


  • Osaka, 1970, Japan Iron & Steel Federation, Kobe
  • T-Zone Flight, 1995, JT Building, Toranomon, Tokyo
  • Landing, 1970, Wakayama Prefecture Museum, Wakayama

Location Unknown

  • Audrey I, 1966, Private Collection
  • Audrey II, 1966, Private Collection
  • Equilateral Quivering Tower, 1973–92
  • Tri-Core Column, 1974
  • Wing I, 1992; Ed. 4, Private collection : University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez
  • Rainbow Arch, 2001
  • Dragon, 2000–03

See also


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-08-21. Retrieved 2011-06-18.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ 38th Rotterdam Film Festival Shorts Program
  3. ^ Kenneth Snelson, Sculptor Who Fused Art, Science and Engineering, Dies at 89
  4. ^ "Kenneth Snelson Untitled Maquette, 1975". Kenneth Snelson Untitled Maquette, 1975. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 22 September 2011. [permanent dead link]
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-04-12. Retrieved 2013-06-12.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  • Busch, Julia M., A Decade of Sculpture: the New Media in the 1960s (The Art Alliance Press: Philadelphia; Associated University Presses: London, 1974) ISBN 0-87982-007-1

Further reading

  • Heartney, Eleanor, Kenneth Snelson: forces made visible/essay by Eleanor Heartney; additional text by Kenneth Snelson, Lenox, Massachusetts: Hard Press Editions, 2009.
  • Sande-Friedman, Amy, "Kenneth Snelson & the Science of Sculpture in 1960s America", Doctoral Dissertation, New York: Bard Graduate Center, 2012.

External links

  • Kenneth Snelson's official webpage
  • Letter from Snelson to R. Motro regarding Fuller's role in 'discovering' Tensegrity
  • Snelson interview with Robert Ayers, March 2009

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