I own an original Andrew Clemens sandbottle. This particular bottle was made by Andrew Clemens for my great-grandfather in memory of his son, Henry, who died at an early age. My great-grandfather, Fred Scharpf (1856-1931), resided in McGregor, Iowa and knew Andrew Clemens.
My Grandfather, George Albert Scharpf, often spoke of this sandbottle and how much it meant to him. He described the painstaking methods used by Mr. Clemens to craft the sandbottles. He also described the various colors and hues of the sand of the "Pictured Rocks" area near McGregor, Iowa where Mr. Clemens collected sand for use in his sandbottles. Mr Grandfather also described how he and his brother would collect sand from the Pictured Rocks area.
Andrew Clemen's procedure for crafting the sandbottles consisted of rubbing dry sand on blotting paper with the bowl of a spoon to get tiny, uniform grains. He then put the sand into bottles with a small tin scoop. With a 9-inch curved hickory wand resembling a small crude hockey stick, he controlled the various colors of sand while he packed grains down tightly with four hickory packers of various lengths and weights. A straight wand on the outside measured the perspective. Clemens had to make pictures in the round-bottomed bottles upside-down. With these simple tools and without dye, glue or paste, Clemens made several hundred sand scenes like those shown below in my sandbottle.
In May of 1959, at age 19, I made a trip to from our residence in Springfield, Missouri to McGregor Iowa and Prarie du Chien Wisconsin with my Grandfather Scharpf. The purpose of this trip was to visit old childhood friends and places including Pictured Rocks. On June 1, 1959, I climbed the bluffs of Pictured Rocks and collected several colors of sand at locations directed by my grandfather. He told me that the colors of sand I collected would match colors in his Andrew Clemens sandbottle. Upon our return to Springfield, I compared the colors of my sand samples to colors of sand in the sandbottle and confirmed my Grandfather's prediction. The colors of my samples perfectly matched a number of the colors in the Clemens sand bottle. I still have the samples of sand I collected. It was at this time that my Grandfather presented the bottle to me as a gift. This trip was very special for me and the sandbottle has had great sentimental value for me over the years.
My Grandfather Scharpf died in 1960. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to hear directly from him, on location in McGregor, the history of the Andrew Clemens sandbottles.
Lewis G. Scharpf, Jr.
June 11, 2000
Fair Haven, NJ
Newspaper article featuring interview with my Grandfather George A. Scharpf appearing in the Springfield, Missouri News Leader & Press, approximately 1939.
"You've probably never heard of sand art. Neither had we until we went out to George Scharpf's market the other day to see one of the few remaining bottles of the once celebrated colored sand art of Andrew Clemens.
When Mr. Scharpf ran across a newspaper story about one of the bottles turning up in Iowa, he remembered that his father had purchased one some 50 years ago, and that it probably was still kicking around in the attic someplace. He found it, and it is still in excellent condition.
The bottle is a little difficult to describe. It is a cylindrical bottle of the kind that used to sit on drug store shelves. At top and bottom are fancy borders of varied colors, and on either side is a picture. On one side is a marine scene, with a ship in full sail, and on the other is a bouquet of flowers. The pictures are made of different colored sand which was chosen with such a fine gradation of tints and colors that one shade blends into another as though the pictures had been printed.
Clemens, as Mr. Scharpf recalls it, originated the art, and it is said to have died with him. Using tiny tools of this own design, Clemens ŽbuiltÓ the pictures by placing the sand in the bottle one grain at a time. No glue was used. When filled to the last grain, they were sealed with wax.
It was slow and laborious work, as a result of which Clemens' output was not large. He realized little from his work, and now the bottles are valued at hundreds of dollars. One of them is owned by the art museum at Milwaukee.
Mr. Scharpf recalls that Clemens charged his father $2.50 for his bottle."