Archive for February 20th, 2011

I was really amazed when I first came across these items and their back story only makes them more intriguing to me.  They are bottles of sand where different colored grains of sand are manipulated, without use of glues or any bonding agents, to create highly detailed images and patterns.  These were created by Andrew Clemens who lived in Iowa and died in 1894 at the age of 37.

Clemens was stricken at an early age with encephalitis which left him deaf and practically mute.  He encountered the art of sandpainting at about age 13 and began to search the local terrain for different colors of sand which he incorporated into his craft.  With practice he moved from simple layers and geometric patterns into more and more intricate patterns, even replicating photographs with ornate shading.

As I noted above, Clemens used no glues in his painting, using only the pressure of the surrounding grains of sand to keep his images in place.  To manipulate the sand he created his own tools from pieces of hickory and fish hooks.  It’s a classic case of an artist finding a medium that fits the way his mind operates. 

When finished, Clemens would pack the jar tightly and seal it.  As his abilities grew so did his notoriety.  His jars soon became fairly popular with orders coming in from around Iowa and the rest of the country.  Small jars sold for a dollar or two and larger ones sold for 6 or 8.  Today, the larger, intricate ones like those at the top of the page would sell for $50-100,000 according to experts.  That is, if they came up for sale.  There are not too many left.  Not only because of the short life of Clemens.  His work had an ephemeral quality.  A slip of the hand and a beautiful work of art becomes a pile of sand and glass, never to be put back together. 

The more I see of these pieces from Clemens, the more amzed I am at his ability to break down an image and render it grain by grain, almost as though each grain were an individual pixel in a modern digital image.  He truly found a medium that meshed with his vision and abilities and thankfully much of his work still survives in collections for us to see.

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