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The following article appeared in the Des Moines Register, September 16, 1962


Iowa Artist's Sand Painting Given to State

A sand painting, which probably is the most complex example of this craft ever executed in America, was presented Monday to the Iowa state historical department.

The sand painting, inside a 12-inch glass bottle is the work of Andrew Clemens of McGregor, who died in 1894. The bottle was brought to Des Moines by Mrs. Ray Clemens of Plymouth, Wis., whose husband was a nephew of Andrew.

Wins Praise

The sand painting instantly became a major attraction at the historical department. Librarians and museum workers came in to express admiration for the amazing skill which had gone into the pictures and designs within the bottle.

A year and a half was required to complete the painting. The work was executed entirely in loose, fine sand of bright, varied colors, and the pictures are held together in the bottle only by the weight and the sealing wax at the base of the bottle.

A highly realistic picture of George Washington, on his favorite white horse, is on one side of the bottle.

On the other side is a side wheel steamboat, correct in every detail; two American Indians in ceremonial dress before a tepee, and an accurate reproduction of the Great Seal of Iowa, with its motto "Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain".

At McGregor

Clemens, a deaf mute, earned his livelihood by making sandstone pictures in bottles. Most of his life he worked at McGregor, although for a short time he made the pictures and exhibited his work at a South State dime museum in Chicago, Ill.

He enjoyed a great demand for his work, often receiving orders from the east and from Europe. However, his prices never were high. For a pint bottle containing a locomotive and three cars he charged $5.

Several examples of his work still are owned in Iowa. One is in a Green Bay, Wis. Museum and another is in the Field Museum at Chicago.

Some Broken

Breakage caused loss of some of his best paintings. Clemens never used glue or a binder of any sort, and a cracked or broken bottle meant instant destruction of the pictures and designs within.

He used the multi-colored sands from the Pictured Rocks area, a mile south of McGregor.

His work was described by Marian Carroll Rischmueller in the May, 1945, issue of the Palimpsest, Iowa historical magazine.

Mrs. Clemens was accompanied to Des Moines by Mr. and Mrs. Ray Webb of McGregor. They brought the only tools Clemens used in his art - several hardwood sticks of varying sizes, one of which was topped with a small metal cup for lifting the sand.

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THE BOTTLES ON THE COVER

EXAMPLES OF A LOST ART ARE "ALMOST PRICELESS"

The photographs on today's cover show an "almost priceless" example of one Iowan's art now in the State Department of History and Archives at the Iowa Historical Building here. The art is sand painting, and the artist was the late Andrew Clemens, who was born in Dubuque in 1857. Clemens, who was left deaf and mute after an illness at the age of 5, produced these paintings with infinite patience by arranging colored sand in bottles.

Two sides of what Curator Jack Musgrove calls Clemens' finest single work are pictured on the cover. One side shows George Washington astride a white horse, and the other side shows an old side-wheel river steamship, an Indian and a flag. The bottle is 12 inches high, 14 inches around. The sand was obtained from a colored sand cliff a mile south of McGregor.

Another of the bottles, just recently acquired by the state, is pictured at right. One side has the words "John and Kittie, July 23, 1889," in various colors of sand, and the opposite side has a fully rigged sailing ship.

The tools Clemens used are shown at far right. They are long, pencil-like pieces of wood, one of which has a tiny metal scoop. With these he painstakingly arranged the sand, grain by grain, as he poked into the bottles, which were upside down, as the cork is in the bottom. He used no glue or other adhesive. No one, so far as is known, has been able to duplicate Clemens' art.


To go to a website devoted to the sandbottles of Andrew Clemens, which includes color pictures of many of his bottles, click here:
The Sandbottles of Andrew Clemens

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