Kenneth Snelson’s Sleeping Dragon sculpture has been around the world and back, with versions featured at locations such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Jardins de Palais Royale in Paris, France. This week, the 73-foot-long sculpture has found its permanent residence at the corner of Western Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, in front of the Kirkpatrick Oil Company Building.
Snelson’s Sleeping Dragon is one of three such sculptures. Made of chrome rods and held together by tension cables, the piece appears to float off the ground and into the air.
Using an artistic method referred to as “Tensegrity,” a method made popular by the artist, he bound the sculpture together using the balance of rods and pulling of cables. Tensegrity, is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension.
Kirkpatrick Oil Company, whose history begins in the 1920s, was established in 1950 by John E. Kirkpatrick, a Navy Admiral and oil industry leader whose philanthropic legacy shaped the cultural and artistic landscape of Oklahoma City.
Christian Keesee, the Kirkpatrick’s grandson, currently serves as chairman of the board. He said he is proud to display this important piece from the family’s varied art collection to Oklahoma City. Kirkpatrick Oil is a family-owned oil and gas company and a leader among private oil companies.
“It’s a privilege to be able to enjoy such a prominent piece from the family’s collection on a daily basis,” said Kirkpatrick Oil Company President, Mike Steele. “The Sleeping Dragon replaces Charles Parry’s sculpture, Four Orbits, which has been relocated to 10th and Broadway in front of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, bookending Oklahoma City’s emerging art districts.”
The artist’s background: Kenneth Snelson was born in Pendleton Oregon. He went to Black Mountain College in North Carolina where he studied with Josef Albers and encountered Buckminster Fuller. In 1951, Snelson studied with Léger at the Academie Montmartre in Paris and by 1960 created his first large-scale works whereby he entered a new, innovative artistic territory. He lives and works in New York.
Humans have been weaving as far back as our history goes, and the current structure, Sleeping Dragon, is based on these principles. Mr. Snelson invented or reinvented 3D weaving in 1965. It also incorporates the tenants of tensegrity. A series of metal tubes is “woven” together with a series of wire cables that do not pass through the tubes, but are attached on each end. They are then adjusted to give the structure firmness. While the structures are a unique engineering feat, they are meant to exist on their own, in the words of the artist, “as wondrous essence of elementary structure.”
A commentary of the sculpture can be found in Forbes magazine,