Sandpainting by Andrew Clemens and John Adams
Sandpainting by Andrew Clemens and John Adams sold for $5–7 in the 19th century, now reaches 40-50 thousand dollars at auctions. Iowa sand artists Andrew Clemens and John Adams, became famous for their unique sandpainting. To create such painting the artists inserted the presorted grains of sand into small glass drug bottles using a homemade tools formed out of hickory sticks and florists wire. John Adams was a railroad man, who lived just upriver from and became familiar with Clemens. Unlike Clemens, he attempted complex landscapes.
Andrew Clemens was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on January 29, 1857. At a young age Andrew suffered encephalitis which caused his lifelong deafness. He attended the Iowa State School for the Deaf and Dumb. Clemens would collect naturally colored grains of sand at Pictured Rocks, where sandstone was naturally colored by iron and mineral staining. Clemens separated the sand grains into piles, by color, and used them to form the basis for his art.
To create his art he inserted the presorted grains of sand into small glass drug bottles using a homemade tools formed out of hickory sticks and florists wire. 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. 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.
His technique improved gradually and eventually people wanted to buy his work, which now included overtones, shading and complex designs such as landscapes. He created most of his work between 1880–1886 and is acknowledged as the inventor and possibly the sole practitioner of his art form. 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.
His artwork sold for $5–7 at the time, in 2004, reached $12,075 at auction. At another auction, a pair of his bottles were estimated to sell for $25,000-$35,000 but failed to sell. 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.
Clemens made this in 1892 for a woman in Michigan. Included with the bottle is a letter from Clemens describing how he made his bottles, along with a printed price list for his bottles. According to his letter, this bottle took two days to complete
Here are three photos of an enormous bottle put up by John Adams while he was living in Roseville, California. Done late in life, it was made 30 yrs later than the others. He seems to have taken up sand art again, late in life. Signed and dated, 1966, and titled “Not So Fast”
Here is John Adams’ landscape, featuring a locomotive and cars going in the American west. Like the last bottle, this one was accomplished in 1933. Image from Facebook page ‘Friends of Andrew Clemens, McGregor, Iowa Sand Artist’