Andrew Clemens (1857-1894) of McGregor, Iowa became deaf and mute at age 5 from encephalitis. He earned his living by making pictures in bottles with the naturally colored sand he collected from the Pictured Rocks area of Iowa. Though he died at age 37, he presumably produced hundreds of bottles, of which only a fraction are known to have survived.
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 did not reserve his patriotism for national holidays alone--eagles and flags show up on many of the bottles. The “Merry Christmas” bottle below, from 1875, features stars and stripes on both sides.
Though most of the bottles seem to sell for under $10,000 at auction, the sand picture with the Paddlewheeler Gray Eagle, below, was sold by Skinner in 2007 for $25,000!
Sand. Flags. Bottles. Happy 4th of July!
More examples of Clemens’s bottles are at this site devoted to him.