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Kjell Sandved


Anyone can see beauty in the delicate design of a butterfly's wing or in the graceful curve of a flower. But how many of us can look at that wing and see the alphabet? Kjell B. Sandved has done just that, photographing some of nature's tiniest creations -- designs "painted" in the microscopic cells of a butterfly's wing. In his posters, prints and his classic children's book, Butterfly Alphabet, the naturalist, photographer and longtime Smithsonian lecturer has shared with the world -- particularly with children -- his unique ability to see meaning in the tiniest details.

It all began in the spring of 1960 in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Visiting researcher Kjell Sandved was gathering material for his encyclopedia of natural history. Balancing high on a ladder, he opened a cigar box full of exotic butterflies and found a beautiful letter "F" woven into the tapestry of a wing.

"I looked under the microscope at this miniature design in soft pastel and sparkling silver and marveled. Not even a calligrapher could have improved on its beauty. My mind was made up. I was going to search for the entire alphabet."

Kjell taught himself photography and embarked upon the quest of his life. He visited more than 30 countries to discover all the letters of the alphabet on the wings of butterflies. Kjell's quest for the alphabet took him through the United States, and tropical rainforests and islands around the world. During 24 years of searching, he found several sets of letters from A to Z in the wings of butterflies. It changed the course of his life. He became the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History's first full-time nature photographer.

Mr. Sandved started his business, Butterfly Alphabet, Inc., in 1993, after he retired from his 32-year career at the Museum of Natural History. The different Butterfly Alphabets have now become the most distributed educational nature posters in the U.S. Over a million of his colorful Butterfly Alphabet posters now grace homes and schools everywhere.

Kjell Sandved has made unique contributions to literacy with his Butterfly Alphabet posters and his classic children's book Butterfly Alphabet. The poster and book not only can teach young children the alphabet, but also can give them an appreciation for the natural world, as well as science, and foster respect for all living things.

For more information about Kjell's life, including his childhood in Norway, and how he got started in photography, click here to download his story.

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