A large and impressive inverted sand picture in a bottle with text reading “Merry Christmas” created by sand artist Andrew Clemens sold for $277,575 at Bonhams in November. The sale continues an amazing run of popularity for the self-taught folk artists.
Clemens’ meticulously crafted sand art masterpieces, contained in apothecary bottles, have been selling for six figures of late, with one setting a world record at $956,000 in 2021 at Hindman Auctions.
Born in 1857 in Iowa, Clemens contracted encephalitis as a young child and lost his hearing and much of his speech. He eventually attended the Iowa School for the Deaf and during his summer breaks, he visited Pikes Peak State Park along the Mississippi River in his home state.
Near the aptly named Sand Cave in the park, Clemens found and collected grains of sand that were vividly colored from naturally occurring iron and minerals that leached into it. He also collected sand from the sandstone cliffs at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He put labels on the bottom of his bottles indicating where the sand was sourced.
Clemens would bring home sand in many different colors including pure white, red, blue, green, yellow and ochre, and sort it into different bottles. He used these to create his sand art without the benefit of glue or artificial coloring and amazingly, he created these mostly upside down, as the bottle's opening, sealed upon completion, would be at the top.
He used tempered hickory sticks with specially designed tips or fishhooks to deposit and position naturally colored grains of sand inside the bottles. Clemens created elaborate designs grain by grain, using only different colors of sand in much the same way an artist uses paints on a palette. Many have since attempted to duplicate his technique, but his works of art remain unmatched.