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Willem Sandberg in 1962
Jonkheer Willem Jacob Henri Berend Sandberg
24 October 1897
Sandberg was born in Amersfoort, the Netherlands in 1897 and studied art in Amsterdam. He became a follower of the Mazdaznan movement. As a young man he traveled, serving as an apprentice to a printer in Herrliberg, Switzerland. In 1927, he visited Vienna, where he studied Otto Neurath's Isotype system at the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum in Wien. At this time, he also visited the Dessau Bauhaus and met Naum Gabo, a pioneer of kinetic art.
Returning to Amsterdam, Sandberg started work as a graphic designer, utilizing his printing skills and Neurath's Isotype system. In 1928, he started a long relationship with the Stedelijk Museum, and in 1932 became a member of VANK, the Dutch Society for Arts and Crafts. He soon joined the committee that determined the exhibitions of the museum. From 1937 to 1941, he served as the museum's curator of modern art.
During the Second World War, Sandberg was active in the Dutch resistance movement, preparing forged documents for Jews and others wanted by the Gestapo. Other prominent individuals in the Raad van Verzet (Resistance Council) included painter and author Willem Arondeus, sculptors Gerrit van der Veen and Frits van Hall, cellist Frieda Belinfante, poet Martinus Nijhoff, dancer Suzy van Hall, lawyer Lau Mazirel, and composer and conductor Jan van Gilse. Within a short time, the Nazis began to expose the false documents by comparing the names with those in the local population registry. To hinder the Nazis, on 27 March 1943, Sandberg was among those who took part in planning the bombing of the Amsterdam Public Records Office. Thousands of files were destroyed, and the attempt to compare forged documents with the registry was hindered. Arondeus and ten others were later arrested and executed by firing squad. His wife and son were arrested and incarcerated for several months.
From December 1943 to April 1945, Sandberg went into hiding as Henri Willem van den Bosch to avoid arrest. During his time on the run, he formulated the Experimenta Typographica, a series of 19 experimental typography pamphlets.
Sandberg began working for the Stedelijk Museum in 1928 and was appointed curator in 1937. During his tenure as curator, Sandberg expanded the museum and developed new exhibition techniques, for which he gained international renown. He applied his graphic design and typography skills to over 300 catalogues. After the war in 1945, he served as director of the museum until his retirement in 1962.