The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Sandved and his Snapshots
As a volunteer for the Digital Services Division I am able to help digitize and preserve a wide variety of objects housed at the Archives. So far, my favorite assignment has been scanning the more than 450 color slides in the Kjell Bloch Sandved Photographic Files.
Born in Denmark in 1922, Kjell Bloch Sandved began his 32-year career at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) as a photographer in 1960. Working in departments such as the Office of Exhibits and the Department of Botany, Sandved photographed archaeological excavations at the Dead Sea, coral reefs in the Caribbean and Pacific, and penguins in Antarctica. Sandved is well known for creating the Butterfly Alphabet, published in the Smithsonian Magazine in 1975. His collection of slides now at the Archives was created in 1975 when then Director of NMNH, Porter Kier, commissioned Sandved to document the research and work of the Museum’s staff.
Sandved’s shots of NMNH scientists include Dennis Sanford and Robert Stuckenrath of the Department of Anthropology working in a C-14 archaeology lab and G. Arthur Cooper of the Department of Paleobiology thoroughly examining fossils specimens. Numerous photos of James Mead are also included in Sandved’s collection. Mead, a Marine Mammalogist with, by far, the best beard in all of Sandved's slides, studied at the University of Chicago and received his PhD in Evolutionary Biology. Mead has held the title of Curator of Marine Mammals in the Division of Mammals since 1972. Though Sandved's shot depicts Mead with the skull of a whale, his current research interests lie with the crania of dolphins.
Also mixed in with Sandved's slides were a number of images that show the preparations for the permanent installation of the Insect Zoo, which opened at NMNH on August 23, 1976. Exhibit designers and NMNH Entomologist, Terry Erwin, can be seen in these images laughing with Kier while looking on at a model of the soon to open exhibit.
In addition, Sandved ventured outside of the Museum’s walls to photograph staff, as seen in an image of Mary E. Rice upon the Smithsonian’s "Blue Fox" in Florida. Currently an Emeritus Research Zoologist, Rice spent her Smithsonian career researching marine invertebrates after receiving her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington. As one of the few women scientists included in Sandved's slides I feel it is important to note some of Rice's many accomplishments: she served as President of the American Microscopical Society (1999) and of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (1979); she helped to develop the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystem Exhibit; and she was the first director of the Smithsonian Marine Station's in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Sandved captured more than just scientists at work. Included in his slides are photos of staff members reconstructing archaeological pottery sherds and artists, such as Alice R. Tangerini, carefully drawing different NMNH specimens. Tangerini has been working as a Staff Illustrator in the Department of Botany ever since completing her BFA at the Virginia Commonwealth University in 1972. Not only has she artistically rendered countless botanical specimens, Tangerini also curated an exhibit, North American Wild Flowers: Watercolors by Mary Vaux Walcott, on display at NMNH in 1990.
It is easy to see why Sandved and his photography were so exciting to process. His snapshots offer a rare glimpse at what went on behind-the-scenes at NMNH in the mid-1970s. I was able to see things that the average Smithsonian visitor never get to see – but now, thanks to the Digital Services Division, Sandved’s images will soon be accessible and enjoyed by all!
- Accesion 95-013 - Kjell Bloch Sandved Photographic Files, 1975, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Kjell Sandved nature photograph collection, Collection #C0020, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University