A Finding Aid to the Kenneth Snelson Papers, 1947-2016, in the Archives of American Art

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.snelkenn
Creators:
Snelson, Kenneth, 1927-2016
Dates:
1947-2016
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
21.8 Linear feet
Repository:
The papers of artist Kenneth Snelson measure 21.8 linear feet and date from 1947-2016. While primarily known for his sculptures incorporating the structural principle of tensegrity, Snelson was also a prolific photographer and forerunner of computer art. The collection document's the artist's life and work through chronological files, correspondence, project files, gallery and exhibition files, photographic material, and printed material. Chronological files detail seven decades of personal and professional activities, beginning with Snelson's summers at Black Mountain College where he studied with Buckminster Fuller. Project files comprise nearly half of the collection and extensively document his sculptures, towers, atom model, computer art, patents, and cataloging and publishing projects.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The papers of artist Kenneth Snelson measure 21.8 linear feet and date from 1947-2016. While primarily known for his sculptures incorporating the structural principle of tensegrity, Snelson was also a prolific photographer and forerunner of computer art. The collection document's the artist's life and work through chronological files, correspondence, project files, gallery and exhibition files, photographic material, and printed material.
Chronological files detail seven decades of personal and professional activities, beginning with Snelson's summers at Black Mountain College where he studied with Buckminster Fuller. Files contain a diverse array of material including personal photographs, photographs of artwork, printed material, correspondence, life documents, resumes, exhibition records, drawings and sketches, supply receipts, and professional files.
Correspondence in Series 2 is primarily with artists and friends. Notable correspondents include artists Buckminster Fuller, Anthony Hill, Todd Siler, and Shinkichi Tajiri.
Project files comprise nearly half of the collection and extensively document Snelson's sculptures, towers, atom model, computer art, patents, and cataloging and publishing projects. Files include a great deal of photographic material of artwork, models, and installations, as well as sketches, notes regarding specifications, material samples, supply receipts, invoices, and correspondence with dealers, contractors, institutions, and companies commissioning work.
Exhibition and gallery files document dozens of exhibitions and galleries that have represented Snelson over the years in the Unites States, Europe, and Japan. Items include correspondence, photographic material of artworks, installations, and openings, exhibitions lists, floorplans, shipping receipts, invoices, contracts, and printed material including exhibitions catalogs, announcements, and clippings.
Photographic material includes photographic prints, slides, negatives, contact sheets, and transparencies, as well as notes that Snelson kept about camera types and photographic processes. Although personal photographs are included here, the bulk of the material pertains to Snelson's fine art photography in which he experiments with panoramic photography and stereoscopic photography.
Printed material is predominantly comprised of exhibition catalogs, although a few articles and clippings are filed here as well.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged as six series.
  • Series 1: Chronological Files, 1948-2015 (Boxes 1-6; 5.1 linear feet)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, 1948-2009 (Box 6; 0.5 linear feet)
  • Series 3: Project Files, 1947-2016 (Boxes 6-17; 10.8 linear feet)
  • Series 4: Exhibition and Gallery Files, 1963-2016 (Boxes 17-20; 1.5 linear feet)
  • Series 5: Photographic Material, 1951-2004 (Boxes 20-22; 1.8 linear feet)
  • Series 6: Printed Material, 1960-2015 (Boxes 22-23; 0.7 linear feet)

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Kenneth Snelson (1927-2016) was a New York City based artist best known for his sculptures incorporating the structural principle of tensegrity, or tensional integrity.
Born in Pendleton, Oregon, Snelson enrolled in college in his home state, studying painting, sculpture, and engineering. In the summers of 1948 and 1949, he attended Black Mountain College and studied with Buckminster Fuller and Joseph Albers. Snelson then attended the Chicago Institute of Design from 1949-1950, and moved to New York City in 1952.
For the next decade, Snelson worked as a cameraman for documentary films, often travelling internationally. In the early 1960s, Snelson began exhibiting his sculptures, and gained representation by Dwan Gallery. Snelson completed several commissions and installations of his sculptures over the next decade, including Tower of Light, a contribution to the 1964 World's Fair, and Needle Tower, first erected in New York's Bryant Park in 1968. While continuing to work in sculpture throughout his career, Snelson began experimenting with panoramic and stereoscopic photography in the 1970s, and became a forerunner of computer art in the 1980s, using the Silicon Graphics computer to create digital sculptures.
In addition to Dwan Gallery, Snelson has shown with Sonnabend Gallery, Zabriskie Gallery, Marlborough Gallery, and the artist-run ConStruct Gallery.
Snelson has been the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including an Honorary Doctorate from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a prize for sculpture from the National Academy of Design.

Administration
Processing Information
The collection was processed and a finding aid prepared by Hilary Price and Caroline Donadio in 2018.
Author
Hilary Price and Caroline Donadio
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was donated to the Archives of American Art in 2017 by Katherine Snelson, Kenneth Snelson's widow.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for research. Access to original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center.
Conditions Governing Use
The Archives of American Art makes its archival collections available for non-commercial, educational and personal use unless restricted by copyright and/or donor restrictions, including but not limited to access and publication restrictions. AAA makes no representations concerning such rights and restrictions and it is the user's responsibility to determine whether rights or restrictions exist and to obtain any necessary permission to access, use, reproduce and publish the collections. Please refer to the Smithsonian's Terms of Use for additional information.
Preferred Citation
Kenneth Snelson papers, 1947-2016. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Sculptors -- New York (State) -- New York Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Black Mountain College (Black Mountain, N.C.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Fuller, R. Buckminster (Richard Buckminster), 1895- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Tajiri, Shinkichi, 1923-2009 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives of American Art
750 9th Street, NW
Victor Building, Suite 2200
Washington, D.C. 20001
https://www.aaa.si.edu/services/questions
https://www.aaa.si.edu/