Timeline of Andrew Clemens

Compiled by Michelle Pettit, Library Director, McGregor Public Library (11/2011)

From primary source materials in North Iowa Times and articles in a variety of newspapers and journals.

Original  research materials compiled by Sue Henkes, Librarian;  John Yates, McGregor Historian and from the authors as listed



Johann Clemens born in Ediger, Prussia

on February 24, 1824.

Dates of birth of Johann and Margaretha

from Marian Carroll Rischmueller “McGregor Sand Artist” – May, 1945, “The Palimpsest”


Margaretha Wolf  born in Schotten, Hesse Darmstadt, Germany

on October 28, 1828


Johann Clemens  was 27 and Margaretha was 23 when they traveled to America. Johann had two brothers on ship with him – Joseph and Matias Clemens

“Johann and Margaretha were among the passengers on a sailing vessel that embarked for America in 1851. Due to calm seas, it was a long journey, taking almost three months to complete. Romance relieved the tedium on shipboard.”

-Marian Carroll Rischmueller “McGregor Sand Artist” – May, 1945, “The Palimpsest”


The courtship of Margaretha and Johann on the ship to America culminated in their marriage at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 18, 1852. (-Rischmueller)

(May have been March 18, 1852 in Milwaukee per family tree maker)

John Joseph Clemens is the first of six sons born to Johann and Margaretha Clemens, born Dec. 22, 1852.

August Clemens is the second son born in 1854 in Dubuque, Iowa.

John Clemens (Johann) is in the trade of wagon making with his brother Joseph. (Johann Americanized his name to John) John had been trained as a locksmith in Germany (-Rischmueller) He became a U.S. citizen August 4, 1856.

Andrew "Andreas" Clemens ~ the Sand Artist ~ was the third child. He was born January 29, 1857 in Dubuque, Iowa.

The first indication that the Clemens family moved to McGregor is an advertisement in the North Iowa Times, June 26, 1857. The ad continued to run throughout the rest of 1857, and in 1858.

Albert Clemens was born Dec. 12, 1859 in McGregor, Iowa.

In 1862 Andrew has “brain fever” at five years old. (Encephalitis, medical science would term it today.” The physician his parents that their boy could not survive. Desperate, and stubbornly refusing to abandon hope, John Clemens called in another physician. Many anxious hours the father and mother watched at Andrew’s bedside and finally were told that their son would live but that he would be deaf. From that day on, Andrew lived in a silent world of his own. Unable to attend school, he remained at home with his mother, wistful and lonely, as he watched his brothers start off with their books each morning. His speech too became impaired. Determined that Andrew should have his chance along with her other sons, Margaretha set to work to instruct him herself, establishing first her own simple system of communication by lip formations, so that he might comprehend what she was trying to teach him. He was a bright lad and so made some progress with his education. Margaretha teaches him to read and write.”

(- Marian Carroll Rischmueller “McGregor Sand Artist” – May, 1945, “The Palimpsest”

Oscar Eduard Clemens was born June 30, 1863.

Frank Emil Clemens was born April 23, 1865.


Andrew enrolls at the “State School for Deaf and Dumb” Council Bluffs, at age 13, November 11, 1870.  According to records he is “bright, active, tolerably strong and very well disposed.”

“Andrew enjoys his studies and works in the carpenter shop at the school and enjoys the association with other boys and girls similarly afflicted. He adapts readily to the new environment. Nevertheless, his summer vacations at home are even more pleasant, for his brothers were very fond of him. There is much excitement and happy expectation at the end of June when Andrew comes home. His younger brother, Oscar, always found cause for good-natured complaint that “no one ever remembered my birthday because that was the date that Andrew arrived.”

“Vacation was not a period of idleness. With a lathe and scroll saw, Andrew applied his school training by turning out shelf brackets, rolling pins, and baseball bats. The boys played games and took excursions to the Indian mounds atop the hills. Best of all, were trips to Pictured Rocks where Andrew collected colored sand and packed it into bottles in artistic designs.”

“At first, Andrew confined his work to simple forms employing diamond-shaped patterns against a background of ivory-white sand, a serpentine design repeated in the chromatic range until the bottle was full, or perhaps, one simple flower motif placed in a serpentine and geometric background. Gradually his technique improved and by utilizing different shades of a color, he learned to create overtones and diminutive landscapes. People began to ask if they might buy the beautiful sand bottles he made at home during these vacation periods.”

(- Marian Carroll Rischmueller “McGregor Sand Artist” – May, 1945, “The Palimpsest”)

He spent school terms at the school and summers in McGregor. After he completes the maximum allowed seven years of attendance, he returns to McGregor.

(“Bottled Art”  by Cindy Sickbert, from her correspondence with the now-named

Iowa School for the Deaf, 01/31/2005)

Andrew is 17 years old. First located article in the North Iowa Times advertising Andrew's sand art.

Andrew is 18. -- “The Work of an Artist”

North Iowa Times, July 29, 1875

“On Saturday we had the pleasure of viewing the handiwork of Andrew Clemens, who is engaged in bottling the various colors of sand from Pictured Rocks. One jar of this sand, representing the forty odd colors, weighing twenty pounds, we particularly admired as displaying the skill and ingenuity of the young artist who has arranged the various colors in an attractive, artistic and skillful manner. There is exhibited a variety of colors in a handsome border, which answers the purposes of a wreath around the neck of the glass jar, leaving a space underneath of pure sky-blue, with a darkish hue beneath, representing the turbulent waters of the Mississippi over which is stretched a facsimile of the Lawler pontoon bridge and a train of cars passing over it. The young artist does not leave you in doubt as to his design; the picture is perfect in every particular. From the smokestack of the engine is seen the issue of a cloud of black smoke, and from the whistle the issue of steam, which denotes the arrival of the train on the Iowa side. The representation of the bridge is perfect, showing every portion, even to the rods that run obliquely as stays, the bolt heads and sections, with the engine-boat attached to its side, which opens and closes the draw.

Beneath this picture in the border representing a variety of colors, artistically displayed, are the words, “Patented by General J. Lawler,” and further down “1874.” Proportionate from the picture of the cars and bridge is a well executed picture of the pontoon drawn open for the passage of steamers and rafts. This section of the bridge, as it may be termed, gives a better view of the beholder; the track, the coupling now raised at each end of the draw, and the draw itself moored against the bank of the island. It is indeed a facsimile of the pontoon as seen when the draw is swung around.

Interspersed, above, below and around these pictures are several colors of sand wrought into the combination of ornamental work, which shows off the beauty of the sands of the rock to the best advantage, giving a pleasant relief to the pictures.

On the opposite side of the jar, standing out prominently, is a representation of a cross with the letters “I.H.S,” on the cross-bar. It is handsomely executed, the lettering evenly proportioned.

The young artist was just fourteen days engaged upon this one jar, which represents every color of sand found at the famous rocks. There is no coloring in order to give a brighter tinge, but every color, as originally gathered, is made to fill its office in the grand combination. It is gathering of the sands together, exhibiting “the work of an artist,” making a sketch that will stand the criticism of even the engineers who conceived the works of bridging the Mississippi with a cheap and durable structure – a floating bridge craft.

Capt. George M. Rising purchased the jar and presented it to General Lawler last Saturday afternoon, who, no doubt will treasure the miniature pontoon bridge, made of sand by the deaf and dumb artist boy, Andy Clemens, as one of the finest works which graces the sand in his study.

Another and smaller bottle accompanied the gift to the General, made for Miss Kate Lawler. A large eagle, with wings spread, and in large, bold letters “Katie” forms the symbol around which the artist has built a variety of ornamental work, displaying bright colors, the beauties of the Iowa sand rock.

It is worth the while of anyone to visit Andy’s work bench, and see him artistically form several colors into things of beauty.”

“Andrew Clemens has prepared another four quart bottle of the Pictured Rock sand, which he designed as a present to J.K. Graves, of the Chicago, Dubuque & Minnesota railway company. About all the colors are represented in a plaid work extending from the bottom of the jar about halfway up. Then the Chicago, Dubuque & Minnesota track with a train of cars, the engine “J.K. Graves” attached under a full head of steam. The representation of the train is very perfect; the whole handsomely designed and executed. It will be taken to Dubuque to morrow by Mr. Buel Knapp, who has had it prepared as a present for President Graves.”  (-North Iowa Times, August 12, 1875)


Disastrous fire at the “State School for the Deaf and Dumb” Council Bluffs (Feb. 25, 1877) (while Andrew was a student there.) Main building and east wing destroyed. Attendance of about 150 at the time of the fire. About half the classes were dismissed, reducing the attendance to about 70.

August 6, 1877 – Roof of new west wing blown off by tornado

(p.170, The history of Polk County, Iowa; Union Historical Company, 1880)

Fire at School

“Last Sunday morning at about 12 o’clock the Deaf and Dumb Asylum at Council Bluffs caught fire as it is supposed from the gas. Before water could be applied the fire had gained such a headway in the upper part of the building that the officers, teachers and pupils had to leave in order to save their lives. There were 153 pupils in the institution at the time, all of whom escaped, though some of them lost nearly all their clothes. The building was entirely destroyed and the total loss will be about $10,000, no insurance.

Several other buildings belonging to the institution were saved and will give accommodation for about one half of the pupils. The fire was first discovered in the fourth story which was occupied by the older students, but by the cool of Supt. Tabbott and his assistants, all the inmates were rescued.” (-Waterloo Courier” Feb. 28, 1877)

“Andrew was urged to return to the school after taking some special courses, in order that he would teach in the Institution, but he wanted to be at home.”

(From “Andrew Clemens, sand artist” by Lena D. Myers,

curator of the McGregor Historical Museum)

“Instructors at the school urged Andrew to go on to the Smithsonian Institution at Washington to train himself to be an instructor at the school when it was rebuilt. Instead, he decided to return to his happy hunting grounds” at McGregor where he planned to continue his miniature work with the colored sands. He was then twenty years old.

One day a young deaf mute peddling shoelaces and pencils stopped at the Clemens home. Meeting Andrew and noting his ailment, the peddler suggested that they work together selling cheap merchandise door to door. Andrew thanked the stranger but shook his head. “Never will I try to make a living because of my affliction,” he told his mother. “I want to do something with my life.”

Across the street from the Clemens’ wagon shop Henry Goldschmidt had a grocery store. Shrewd, and aware of the artistic merits of Andrew’s work, Goldschmidt suggested that Andrew might make sand bottles for his trade at a stipulated wage. Andrew consented and it was arranged that he would set up his work table in a small lean-to adjoining the grocery. There, surrounded by stores of potatoes, dried fruits, and barrels of vinegar, he began his life work in earnest.

Happy that Andrew was at home to stay, the entire Clemens family set about to help him. Mrs. Clemens made a number of cloth bags, each capable of holding ten pounds of colored sand. Mr. Clemens turned out a neat little two-wheeled cart in his wagon shop, and twice each year the Clemens boys accompanied Andrew to Pictured Rocks to help him obtain material for his work. Andrew knew where the finest colors could be found, each color was placed in a separate bag, and the two-wheeled cart was loaded to capacity. In two or three days enough colored sand was obtained to last six months. The best specimens were secured in dry weather. Later, Andrew discovered that the finest white sand was available in a sand cave known as the White Springs, located at West McGregor.”

(- Marian Carroll Rischmueller “McGregor Sand Artist” – May, 1945, “The Palimpsest”)


A Thing of Beauty

“Andrew Clemens last week finished a bottle of the Pictured Rock sand in an artistic style that commands the admiration of all who have examined it. The different colors of sand found at the rocks are shown, blocked out in squares and diamonds, presenting the various shades and hues in an exceedingly beautiful manner. The view, on a plain, pure white back ground, shows to the best advantage the artist’s skill in transforming a picture of striking reality. It is the old, familiar farm scene – the gentle, kind pet of the place, the cow, a lady seated at milking; the little six year old daughter, happy in the enjoyment of the novel scene; the fowls partaking of their evening meal, the ever present old hen with her brood of infant chicks. – The scene is characterized in sand in a manner so life like that one would exclaim in admiration of its beauty that the artist’s pencil had drawn it on the smooth glass – yet it is there in sand – and so fine are the lines drawn that the picture stands out in its perfect beauty. Underneath are the words: “Industry and Submission,” and under this is a fac simile of the signature of party for whom this valuable present is intended. The name is perfect, the imitation exact, even to the finest line and neatest curve. In short, this sand production is the grandest specimen of Andrew’s work yet produced.”  (North Iowa Times, 03/09/1881)


The Beautiful Sands

“The South Pueblo (Col.) News has the following pleasant mention:

The pictured rock sand work of A. Clemens, of McGregor, Iowa, is attracting very general attention in the city just now. Clemens is a deaf mute and is represented here by H.F. Ruegnitz who is an employee of Col. Wm. Moore. The work is simply wonderful. It is all of natural colored sand is placed in a glass jar with a quill in such designs as one may desire to order. Hon. James N. Carlile has a jar which contains a perfect picture of his horse “Eagle Bird” and an engine and the News has just received one showing elaborate bouquets of flowers and other designs which show the master skill of the workman. Mr. Clemens is believed to be the only man in the world who can accomplish this work and McGregor, Iowa is the only known place where such a variety of sand can be found.”

(North Iowa Times, September 17, 1882)


Clemens bottle presented as gift in Kansas

“There is quite a curiosity at the book house of Levin & Downs on Main Street of Atchison, in the shape of a bottle filled with colored sand, arranged in a most artistic manner. A wreath of flowers and two doves appear on one side and an American flag in all its natural colors, appears on the other. Above the flag is “Mary M. Levin” and below, “1884”

The work was done by A. Clemens, a deaf mute at McGregor, Iowa, and presented as a gift to Mrs. Levin by a friend.”

(Atchison Globe, Atchison, Kansas, August 20, 1884)



Personal recollections about Andrew

·         “I remember that when my brother Chub and I were sent on errands by mother to the Clemens’ home, we stood by the window and watched Andrew work. He had two tools to work with, a long polished stick and one with a small metal cup on the end. He did not seem to mind us watching him a bit.” –Al Widman, old-time McGregor resident; From “More Recently Located Sand Bottles” by Lena D. Myers, North Iowa Times; undated clipping from the 1960s)

·         RE: A bottle owned by John Allen, which had been created in 1887. C.M. Leary said Clemens’ technique was never successfully duplicated, although hundreds made the attempt. Leary wrote, “You may be wondering why I am so much interested in this bottle and know so much about it. The bottle is owned by John Allen, my brother-in-law. Allen’s, you will remember, lived in Andrew’s house just back of Clemens’ house and I spent a large part of my boy’s life with them. I saw Andrew do this work many, many times. I can remember some of the bottles that he worked on, among them, I am sure, I saw him work on the Pontoon Bridge bottle; and as I recall it, one draw was closed with a train going over it and the other draw was opened with a raft boat coming through it. He also made a bottle on order for my sister Ella that had a Milwaukee engine in it, and I remember the number on the engine cab (1406) could be read in the little picture in the bottle just as plainly as in the large photograph from which he made it. The bottle was broken and destroyed.” ( - from a letter by C.M. (Slid) Leary to Jack Kramer, in article “Suggest Memorial for Andrew Clemens, Former McGregorite Offers to Donate to Tablet for Sand Artist” North Iowa Times, November 5, 1936)

Memories from Andrew’s brother Albert

from an article, “Andrew Clemens – Sand Artist” by Marian Rischmueller

Marian Rischmueller interviewed Andrew’s brother Albert Clemens, who had been a long-time McGregor merchant. Published in the North Iowa Times, the article is undated. This article may have been written approximately the time Marian Rischmueller did another article for “The Palimpsest” published by the State Historical Society of Iowa, May, 1945

Albert said about Andrew: “Andrew was a bright boy. It was a great pity he had to lose his hearing. The only words he could repeat when the deafness came to him were the baby words he had learned in his six years, but Mother worked with him and helped him and she was very patient and attentive to him. He could not attend school with the rest of us but she had a system of her own and tried to teach him at home. Then, father and mother decided to send him to a school for the deaf at Council Bluffs and it was there that he received most of his education. The school burned down and then of course, he had to return to us at McGregor.”

Albert continued about how Andrew started making the sand bottles: “Well across from the Will Werder place, now the Dornbach property, was a man by the name of Goldschmidt who filled bottles with the sand from Pictured Rocks and sold them in his place of business. They sold very well so Mr. Werder asked Andrew to try his hand at filling some bottles for sale in the Werder grocery, since Andrew could not attend public school and time was heavy on his hands. Andrew agreed to try and Mr. Werder cleared out a small storehouse where he kept dried fruits and stocks of groceries and prepared a place for Andrew to work.

As time went on Andrew’s technique began to improve and he learned to experiment with different shades and patterns so that the bottles he made for Mr. Werder sold very well. In fact, so well, that when he was twelve years old, Andrew decided to go into business for himself! Father prepared a work table in the wagon shop for him and it was there that he worked each day. Though Andrew’s work shows evidence of great artistic ability, to my knowledge, he did not, at any time, receive any training in art. This fact is remarkable in view of the work that he did, for if you will examine closely, some of the larger bottles, you will notice that he even managed to create the illusion of lights and shadows with the grains of sand. As he grew older, Andrew began to show great promise and finally, people came to Father’s wagon shop just to watch the young boy at work created his pictures of flowers, and steamboats, and locomotives, and flags, and eagles, with grains of colored sand using but a few simple tools.”

Marian Rischmueller asked Albert what sort of tools Andrew used. Albert answered, “I have a seet here which are exact replicas of the tools Andrew used. Andrew and I used to make them ourselves of green hickory wood tempered over a candle. The first consisted of a tiny scoop fastened to a stick. This scoop held about one-fourth teaspoon of sand. Just two fine delicate tools served as his ‘brushes’ you might say for it was with these that he did his lovely work. One of these was similar to the orange stick used in manicuring but about the size and length of a large knitting needle. This tool was pointed on one end and slightly flattened on the opposite end. Then, the second delicate tool was a slender hickory wand – slightly curved at one end. This curve was necessary and helped control the different colors. For instance, if Andrew wished to put a band of red sand against white, the curve proved invaluable in keeping each color in place. As you know, most of the bottles Andrew filled were round at the top and this meant holding the bottle in one hand and constructing the picture upside down using these two slender tools alternately with the other hand. Four ‘packers’ were used to pound the sand down tight as he worked. These were of hickory in various weights and lengths – the last ‘packer’ used, being the heaviest and shortest, of course.”

Albert continued about the sand and methods employed in preparation, “Andrew and I used to make our trips to Pictured Rocks to get the sand for his work. We would fill from fifty to one hundred saucks each containing about ten pounds. Andrew and I discovered that there about forty-two different shades in the beautiful colors found there. However, the best white sand for his work we obtained out at the White Springs Cave, near West McGregor.”

“Preparing the sand meant simply spreading it on brown wrapping paper, working it around with a tablespoon and the finest grains would adhere to the paper. These, we used. The sand had to be dry and the bottle quite without moisture. At first, Andrew dyed the blue, but later, he found a lovely shade of grey blue which seemed to serve the purpose better and he did not use any more dye.”

To verify the fact that there are, actually, more than forty shades to be found in the sand at Pictured Rocks, Mr. Clemens suggested that I uote from ‘A Handbook for the Mineral Collector’ by H.C. Dake, Frank L. Fleener, and Ben Hur Wilson. The book states, to quote, “Perhaps the most unusual use to which sandstone was ever put, was as a material for fine arts. In the cliffs of St. Pater sands one located at Iowa’s Pike’s Peak, a few miles south of McGregor, may be found more than forty delicate shades of colored sand, which are widely known as the ‘Pictured Rocks.’ About fifty years ago, a deaf mute by the name of Andrew Clemens made pictures in glass display jars with colored sand which were of unbelievable beauty and craftsmanship.  Some of these exquisite gems now have an art value exceeding ten thousand dollars.”

“It would take Andrew about two or three weeks to make one of the bottles.” Mr. Clemens continued. “This would depend, of course, upon the pattern. I can see him, measuring against the outside of the bottle, meanwhile, using the little curved hickory wand on the inside to adjust his designs and colors. Always, there would be a crowd watching him as he worked. I worked with him until 1878 when I went to work for Mr. E.R. Barron. Later, Andrew moved his work table from Father’s wagon shop to the family home and then the people would come and watch him through the window, at his work.”

“Being shut off from a normal world and the active life of an ordinary boy, Andrew turned to his sand pictures not only as a means of earning a livelihood, but as a career. Mr. George L. Bass, a steamboat agent here would buy many of them to present to the river captains for gifts and gradually, in this way, Andrew’s fame spread as the bottles went all over the country. At one time, he was asked to exhibit at the Kohl and Middleton Museum on the south side of Chicago and was paid twenty-five dollars a week just to demonstrate his extraordinary art to the curious. This was in 1889. Andrew charged from one dollar for the one-fourth pint bottle to eight dollars for larger size, depending, of course, upon the intricacy of the design wanted. For instance, a small bottle with designs, waves, layers, and diamonds, sold for one dollar, while a large bottle showing a steamboat, a bouquet, and bearing the owner’s name would sell for six or eight dollars.”

“Andrew died May 12, 1894, at the age of thirty-seven years.” Mr. Clemens concluded. “But, he left behind him these lovely sand pictures as evidence of his great talent. No one has ever produced a sand bottle comparable in artistic beauty to those brother Andrew made. Anyone who is fortunate enough to possess one today is lucky indeed and should guard it carefully for, it is not only extremely valuable now, but will be more so as the years roll on,” he concluded. Albert Clemens possesses two exquisite specimens of his brother Andrew’s art.


“McGregor has an artist nowhere equaled in this world in his line of artistic work. He invented and became skilled in an artistic work all unaided and alone. He invented and made his own tools. He invented and made his own tools. He has thus brought to a surprising perfection – an art of which he alone is the inventor, the master. We refer to the pictures wrought in sand from pictured rocks, by Andrew Clemens. Our people do not properly appreciate this art invention. The master doesn’t seem to realize his exalted position among the inventors of the world. Mr. Clemens lately completed what may be regarded a masterpiece. He has made many fine efforts before. This last one is a perfect picture of Gen. Washington on horseback. The artist has surpassed the copy. He gives the coloring, shading, form, all complete and perfect and all done in sand. The work shows Mississippi river steamers running at full speed, a group of Indians in camp, the flag of our country with lettered motto, landscape – sky, mountains, river, fields, and harvest scene – all perfect and wrought with sand in a glass jar. The jar is open at the bottom and the work is commenced at the top of the picture. But to appreciate this wonderful work one must see it as we have seen it. It is one of the wonders of the age and ought to have a place among the great art work of the world.”  (North Iowa Times, July 5, 1888, page 3)·        

The first son of John and Margaretha -- John Clemens Jr., died July 22, 1888. He was 36 years old.

undated studio photograph of Andrew Clemens


Andrew writes about his work

In a letter to an admirer, Clemens described his work: “…the sand is pulverized and put in dry. The sand is put in required quantities with a little scoop and then worked into position with a sharp pointed stick. When the jar is full, I put a cork in the mouth of the jar and press it down with a wood hammer and a round piece of wood. Then I pound the jar on a piece of rubber for half an hour and hammer the cork down every five minutes. When I can get the cork down no more, the sand is tight.” (Original letter from Andrew Clemens, July 15, 1892)


“Officials of the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago asked Clemens to work and exhibit his sand art. He was pleased at this opportunity, but had to refuse this honor as his health began to fail.”  (-Lena D. Myers, “Andrew Clemens, Sand Artist” North Iowa Times, 04/20/1967)


Andrew dies of tuberculosis at the age of 37 (May 12, 1894)