Holiday souvenirs – Victorian sand pictures
Thousands of sites exist where it is possible to collect natural coloured sands for craftwork, with an infinite variety of colours being available around the globe varying with the contents of the mineral charged waters leeching through the sands. But for the tourist the vertical sand cliffs at Alum Bay on the Isle of Wight form the central portion of a visual geological phenomenon (best viewed after a shower of rain) which encapsulates the impressive chalk spires of The Needles and Tennyson Downs. Aspiring sand crafters are now banned from risking their lives climbing the cliffs to collect the 21 coloured sands available in the bay, and to prevent excessive damage to the environment, but the sand kiosks have in the past been there to supply their needs. Unfortunately due to mailing costs the current management are no longer able to supply quantities of Alum Bay sands by mail order.
After her marriage to Prince Albert and having chosen Osborne House near Cowes to be her new family retreat, Queen Victoria was the prime mover in the gentrification of this former backwater, local artisans benefitted from the influx of wealthy visitors, and a number of craftsmen sold their fixed sand pictures and unfixed sand jars featuring views of the Island as unique keepsakes of the Isle of Wight.
Some of these sand pictures were small and crude and left unsigned, but Edwin and John Dore of Arreton produced some fine work in the 1840s. The pictures were of postcard size and the subject matter local views such as Carisbrooke Castle, and other touristy subjects. Edwin always signed his quaint pictures in a fine hand with a mapping pen and Indian ink, one of his most successful mass produced subjects being ‘Collecting birds eggs on Needles Cliffs’. John Dore used a card embellished with a printed border of lace design on which to execute his sand pictures although the quality of his work was inferior to that of his brother.
Few of the Island sand artists filled in the sky, giving that detail a light colourwash as a finishing touch, sometimes leaving doors and windows free of sand which would be blocked in with Indian ink. In the 1860s and 1870s J. Symons of Cowes kept up the good work, producing local views much larger than postcard size, mounted in glazed oak or maple frames and signed with the artist’s signature on the reverse. The father and son team the Neates of Newport sold their works from a stall outside Carisbrooke Castle gates where visitors were offered sand pictures and sand jars priced from 1/- to 2/6 each and the son grew his fingernails abnormally long in order to distribute the sand on his pictures. During the 1930s and 1940s R.J.Snow of Lake came nearest to producing sand pictures in the manner of the Georgian craftsmen, but postcard size, although he did produce some fine commissioned work, particularly a view of Oddicombe in Devon, in which the sea and sky were also ‘painted’ in sand, but after the war years the quality of the postcard sand pictures deteriorated with the mass produced article with little taste or skill being offered for sale for a few shillings.