A couple of years after college, I started working at a public relations firm. A co-worker called in sick and I was told to go home and pack for my first business trip. My task was to accompany the product spokesperson to radio interviews and make sure that she mentioned the product name in her on-air interviews.
The idea of traveling on my first business trip was exciting until I learned our destinations: Philadelphia, Detroit and Saginaw, Michigan. One day in each city with trains, planes and cabs to get to the various interview appointments. I wanted to remember this trip and glanced around the gift shops for a fitting souvenir. The same basic T-shirts, decorative spoons, thimbles, snow globes and other trinkets were displayed with the names of each local city. I noticed a tiny ceramic mug with Philadelphia on it and decided that I would collect tiny mugs from each city to commemorate my trip. Upon returning home, I displayed my tiny Detroit, Saginaw and Philadelphia mugs on the fireplace mantel in my apartment.
Recently, while dusting a few knick-knacks on shelves in my kitchen, I fondly remembered one of my favorite souvenirs -- a birdhouse made out of tree bark. I bought it at a gift shop on Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina on the last day of a fantastic hiking trip. Something about that rustic birdhouse appealed to me and I carried it on my lap on the plane ride home. There are no labels or marks on the birdhouse. I like to think that it was hand-crafted by a local resident and not made in a foreign factory.
During that dusting foray in the kitchen, I also discovered a tiny glass bottle filled with colored sand. I do not remember buying this sand art trinket. Maybe a friend brought it back from vacation for me. This sand art souvenir was clearly mass produced to look like something from the South West.
On an episode of Antiques Roadshow, a man brought in a bottle of sand art created by Andrew Clemens and made in Iowa in 1880. The appraiser informed the TV viewers that Mr. Clemens was a self-taught deaf artist who created intricate designs using grains of colored sand.
The eight inch tall glass bottle brought to the Antiques Roadshow displayed colorful sand designs including flowers, the American flag, a soaring eagle, and the date of 1880. The original paper label was still under the glass bottle top -- A. Clemens deaf mute. This large bottle had taken weeks to complete and probably sold for a few dollars in 1880. Today the value for this hand-made souvenir is between $30,000 - $50,000!
I was intrigued and researched more information about Mr. Clemens. Andrew Clemens became deaf at the age of five after an illness. He was home-schooled by his mother until age 13 and then attended a school for the deaf in Council Bluffs, Iowa, until age 20. During the summers, Andrew and his brothers played near Pictured Rocks, a natural sandstone area not far from their home.
Andrew developed an interest in creating sand art using more than forty shades of the fine colored sand. He collected the sand in large sacks and meticulously sorted the grains by size and color. Over the years, he created decorative sand motifs in small and large glass bottles and sold these items to make a living.
Considered to be a master of sand art, Mr. Clemens was even paid to demonstrate his craft at a museum in Chicago in 1889. Sadly, Andrew Clemens died at age 37 from tuberculosis. Few examples of his sand art in glass bottles exist intact.
Kim Kovach finds writing inspiration everywhere! www.kimkovachwrites.com