Andrew Clemens

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Andrew Clemens portrait.jpg

Andrew Clemens (c. January 29, 1857 – May 14, 1894) was a sand artist from Iowa in the United States. Clemens formed his pictures by compressing natural colored sands inside chemists jars to create his works of art.

Early life[edit]

Andrew Clemens was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on January 29, 1857. The year 1857 is given as his birth year in his obituary in the North Iowa Times, in his death record, and on his gravestone, and he is listed as being 37 years, 4 mos., and 13 days old in his obituary. (Obituary from the McGregor News newspaper, May 16, 1894, page 3) The Clemens family moved to McGregor, Iowa from Dubuque, in June 1857 (when Andrew was approximately five months old).[1]

At a young age Andrew suffered encephalitis which caused his lifelong deafness.[2][3] At the age of 13 Clemens was entered into the Iowa State School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs, Iowa.[2]


Clemens' sandpainting career blossomed during his summer vacations from the State School, when he would spend time honing his craft.[citation needed] He would collect naturally colored grains of sand from an area in Pikes Peak State Park known as Pictured Rocks. At Pictured Rocks, the basal portion of the sandstone near the Sand Cave is naturally colored by iron and mineral staining.[4] Clemens separated the sand grains into piles, by color, and used them to form the basis for his art.[2]

Sand bottle by Andrew Clemens, 1879

To create his art he inserted the presorted grains of sand into small glass drug bottles using homemade tools formed out of hickory sticks and florists wire.[citation needed] His process utilized no glue and pressure from the other sand grains alone held the artwork together. When Clemens completed a sand bottle he sealed the bottle with a stopper and wax.[2] At first, Clemens' work was simple and geometric in nature, diamond shaped patterns against an ivory white background was a regular motif in his earliest work.[5]

His technique improved gradually and eventually people wanted to buy his work, which now included overtones, shading and complex designs such as landscapes.[5] He created most of his work between 1880–1886 and is acknowledged as the inventor and possibly the sole practitioner of his art form.[6] During his lifetime, it is thought that Clemens produced hundreds of his sand bottles but few survive today.[7] The more complex subjects of Clemens' work ranged from steamboats, flowers, eagles, and flags and he often created custom bottles with scenes of his client's choosing. He created many of his images upside down. Upon completion, Clemens would securely stopper the bottle, and flip it right side up. The most complex of his designs could take up to a year to complete.[7]

When he was 17 (in the summer of 1874) Andrew Clemens advertised his sand bottles in the North Iowa Times, McGregor, Iowa. Andrew returned to McGregor to live year-round after a fire at the State School for the Deaf destroyed the dorm where he had lived. Andrew had been offered a job as a teacher there, but declined the offer. Clemens showed his work at the Saint Paul Dime Museum in 1889. He earned an invitation to demonstrate his work at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, which he declined due to his failing health.[5] His artwork sold for $5–7 at the time.[8] In 2004, a Clemens' sand art glass bottle sold for $12,075 at auction.[citation needed] At another auction, a pair of his bottles were estimated to sell for $25,000-$35,000 but failed to sell.[7][9] At auction in 2012, a Clemens sand bottle from the Paul Brenner Iowa Collection sold for $45,000 plus buyer's premium in Des Moines, Iowa.[citation needed]

A comprehensive book about Andrew Clemens was published in 2015 and includes numerous pictures of his sand bottles.[10]

Late life[edit]

A funeral notice, circulated around McGregor when Clemens died, stated in part that his funeral was to be held on May 14, 1894, when Clemens was 37 years old.[2][5][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ North Iowa Times, John Clemens advertisement, June 26, 1857.
  2. ^ a b c d e Langel, Richard J. "Andrew Clemens Sand Art Archived August 14, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.," from: Anderson, R.R. (ed.), 2000, The Natural History of Pikes Peak State Park, Clayton County, Iowa: Geological Society of Iowa Guidebook 70, p. 33, Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  3. ^ Heim, Michael. Exploring Iowa Highways: Trip Trivia (Google Books), Exploring America's Highway: 2007, p. 98, (ISBN 0974435856)
  4. ^ "Stop 5: Bridal Veil Falls Archived May 10, 2005, at the Wayback Machine., Discussion of Andrew Clemens Sand Art, Geological Society of Iowa. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  5. ^ a b c d "McGregor Sand Artist," originally published: The Palimpsest May 1945 Vol. XXVI, No. 5, Republished 1996 Iowa State Historical Dept., Division of the State Historical Society: 1996, (Google Books link). Both retrieved 11 August 2007.
  6. ^ Dewey, Susan. "Scenic sandscapes merit close inspection," Historical Treasures Article, 19 September 1999, Vigo County Historical Society; Indiana State University. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  7. ^ a b c d Cowan, Wes and Richmond, Andrew. "Andrew Clemens "Painter Without a Brush" Creativity and a Little Sand Equals Great Folk Art Archived August 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.," Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine, September 2005. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  8. ^ Kovel, Ralph and Terry. "Sand pictures in a bottle a form of artwork," San Diego Union-Tribune, 21 May 2006. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  9. ^ Cowan, Wes. "A collectors 'Top 10'," 17 July 2004, Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  10. ^ Sucholeiki, R. "The Sand Art Bottles of Andrew Clemens[permanent dead link]," McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers, 2015.

External links[edit]

  • Images of Clemens' sand bottles: [1]
  • Examples of sand art bottles: [2]
  • Andrew Clemens Facebook Page: [3]