Skinner was kind enough to send me the catalogue for their upcoming November 3 & 4 sale of American Furniture & Decorative Arts.
Glancing through it last night, I was simply astonished at the sight of Lot 590.
These unique artworks were apparently created in the late 19th century by a deaf-mute, Andrew Clemens (1852-1894), who sold them as his sole means of support. The colored sands were naturally-occurring, and were collected by the artist in the Pictured Rocks, a mile south of McGregor, Iowa.
Richard J. Langel of the Iowa Geological Survey writes:
To create his sand paintings, Clemens used only a few tools: brushes made from hickory sticks, a curved fish hook stick, and a tiny tin scoop to hold sand. His sand paintings ranged from original designs to reproductions of images from photographs.
Because the majority of the bottles that Clemens used were round-top drug jars, he painted his designs upside down. Clemens inserted the sand using the fish hook stick. The brushes were used to keep the picture straight. No glue was used in the process; the sand was only held in place by pressure from other sand grains. Once a design was completed and the bottle was full, the bottle was sealed with a stopper.
Clemens originally sold his sand paintings in the McGregor grocery store. A small bottle sold for $1; a larger personalized bottle sold for $6-$8. The popularity of his sand paintings increased as travelers and steamboat agents purchased the bottles as souvenirs. Eventually, orders for his bottles became worldwide.
Clemens’ sandbottles are avidly collected as folk art, and now sell for thousands of dollars.
McGregor Sand Artist by Marian Carroll Rischmueller
Cowan’s – Painter Without a Brush