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
DiedDecember 22, 2016(2016-12-22) (aged 89)
New York City, New York
EducationUniversity of Oregon
Black Mountain College
Fernand Léger in Paris.
Known forSculpture, 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.[1] Fuller gave the idea its name, combining 'tension' and 'structural integrity.' 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,[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

Honours and awards[edit]

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

Sculptures in public collections and public spaces[edit]

United States[edit]



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

District of Columbia[edit]


  • Newport, 1968, M. Margulies, Coconut Grove
  • Double City Boots, 1967, MDC Wolfson Campus, Miami
  • X-Planar Tower, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota


  • Four Module Piece, 1968, Riverfront Crossings 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, Missouri, just north of 27th Street between Main Street and Grand Blvd, at the South end of the Crown Center complex. The sculpture consists of 30–40 aluminum tubes held together and apart by steel cables. The entire assembly is roughly 23 meters on each of three sides and roughly that tall, with the low point being roughly 5 meters above the ground.[7]


New York[edit]

New Jersey[edit]

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

North Carolina[edit]






  • 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]


  1. ^ "FAQ". Retrieved April 20, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 21, 2012. Retrieved June 18, 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ 38th Rotterdam Film Festival Shorts Program
  4. ^ Kenneth Snelson, Sculptor Who Fused Art, Science and Engineering, Dies at 89
  5. ^ "Kenneth Snelson Untitled Maquette, 1975". Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved September 22, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "Wellesley College Receives Permanent Gift of Snelson Sculpture | Wellesley College". Archived from the original on April 12, 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
  7. ^ This description was judged by eye from the image in Google Earth. It could be improved by closer inspection. Freedom of panorama in the United States does not extend to art work. Thus, including photos of this in Wikimedia Commons would require the permission of the owner, Crown Center. Triple Crown sculpture, Wikidata Q66839784

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]