is the art of pouring colored sands,
powdered pigments from minerals or crystals, and pigments from
other natural or synthetic sources onto a surface to make a
painting. These are often ritual paintings for religious or healing
ceremonies. It is also referred to as drypainting.
Sandpainting is practised by Native Americans in
the Southwestern United
States, by Tibetan monks, by Indians, by Australian Aborigines, and by Latin
Americans on certain Christian holy
Native American sandpainting
In the sandpainting of southwestern Native Americans (the most
famous of which are the Navajo
paints loosely upon the ground of a hogan
where the ceremony takes place, or on a buckskin or cloth
tarpaulin, by letting the colored sands
through his fingers with control and skill. There are at least 600
to 1000 different sandpaintings that are recognized among the
Navajos. They are not viewed as static objects, but as living
things that should be treated with great respect. There may be more
than thirty different sandpaintings associated with one ceremony
The colors for the painting are usually made with naturally colored
sand, crushed gypsum
(white), yellow ochre
, red sandstone
, and a mixture of charcoal and
gypsum (blue). Brown can be made by mixing red and black; red and
white make pink. Other coloring agents include corn meal, flower
, or powdered roots and bark.
The paintings are for healing purposes only. Many of them contain
images of yeibicheii, or the Holy People. While creating the
painting, the medicine man will chant, asking the yeibicheii to
come into the painting and help heal the patient.
When the medicine man finishes painting, he checks its accuracy.
The order and symmetry of the painting symbolize the harmony that
the patient wishes to reestablish in his or her life. However
accurate the sandpainting is will determine how effective it will
be as a sacred tool. The patient will then be asked to sit on the
sandpainting, and the medicine man will then proceed with the
healing chant. The sandpainting acts like a portal for spirits to
come and go, and also attracts them. Sitting on the sandpainting
helps the patient absorb some of their power, while in turn the
Holy People will absorb the illness and take it away. Afterwards,
the sandpainting has done its duty, and is then considered to be
toxic, since the illness is absorbed into it. That is the reason
they must be disposed of afterwards. Because of the sacred nature
of the ceremonies, the sandpaintings are begun, finished, used, and
destroyed within a twelve hour period.
The ceremony involving sandpaintings are usually done in sequences,
termed 'chants', lasting a certain number of days depending on the
ceremony, and for which a fresh, new sandpainting is made for each
There are some Navajo laws and taboos surrounding the
sandpaintings, and that protect its holiness:
-Women are not supposed to sing the chants associated with the
yeibicheii. This is because the ceremony has a possibility
of injuring an unborn child, and because of a taboo preventing
menstruating women from attending. Post-menopausal women
are therefore far more likely to be chanters or
-One is not supposed to pretend to be a medicine man creating a
sandpainting, or mock the medicine man in any way by mimicking
him. Both the medicine man and the yeibicheii themselves
may punish you.
-Authentic sandpaintings are rarely ever photographed, as to
not disrupt the flow of the ceremony. Medicine men will
seldom allow outsiders inside a sacred ceremony for many
reasons. However, because so many outsiders wish to see
the art of sandpainting, medicine men will create them for
exhibition purposes only, using reversed colors and
variations. To create an authentic sandpainting solely for
viewing purposes would be a profane act. The sandpaintings
one sees in shops and on the Internet are commercially produced and
contain purposeful errors, as the real sandpaintings are considered
Indigenous Australian sandpainting
Indigenous Australian art
has a history which covers over 30,000 years, and represents a
large range of native traditions and styles. These have been
studied in recent decades and gained increased international
recognition. Aboriginal Art covers a wide medium including
sandpainting, painting on leaves, wood carving, rock carving,
sculpture, and ceremonial clothing, as well as artistic
embellishments found on weaponry and also tools. Art is one of the
key rituals of Aboriginal culture and was and still is, used to
mark territory, record history, and tell stories about The Dreaming
sand paintings are
usually made of mandalas
. In Tibetan, it is
("mandala of colored
The sand is carefully placed on a large, flat table. The
construction process takes several days, and the mandala is
destroyed shortly after its completion. This is done as a teaching
tool and metaphor for the 'impermanence' (Pali: anicca
) of all contingent and compounded phenomena
The mandala sand painting process begins with an opening ceremony,
during which the lamas
, or Tibetan priests,
consecrate the site and call forth the forces of goodness. This is
done by means of chanting, intention, mudra
visualisation, music and mantra recitation, etc.Image:Sand mandala
tibet 1.JPG|Tibetan monks making a temporary "Sand-Mandala" in the
City-Hall of Kitzbühel in Austria in 2002.
Image:Sand mandala tibet
2.jpg|Details of Sand-Mandala.On the first day, the lamas begin by
drawing an outline of the mandala to be painted on a wooden
platform. The following days see the laying of the colored sands,
which is effected by pouring the sand from traditional metal
funnels called chak-pur
. Each monk holds
in one hand, while running a metal rod on its
serrated surface; the vibration causes the sands to flow like
Formed of a traditional prescribed iconography
that includes geometric shapes
and a multitude of
ancient spiritual symbols (e.g.: Ashtamangala
and divine attributes of yidam
), seed syllables
, the sand-painted mandala is used as a
tool or instrument for innumerable purposes, amongst which
re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants is elementary.
The development of permanent sandpaintings from the 15th to the
From the 15th c. in Japan Buddhist artists in the times of the
Shoguns mastered the craft of "bon-kei" by sprinkling dry coloured
sand and pebbles onto the surface of plain black lacquered trays
and using bird feathers as brushes to form the sandy surface into
seascapes and landscapes. These tray pictures would then be used in
religious ceremonies, and were probably the inspiration for the
development of the more intricate mandalas
created by Tibetan Buddhists
During the 17th and 18th centuries the royal courts of Europe
employed "table deckers" whose function it was to decorate the
tables at royal banquets using coloured sands, marble dust, sugars
etc. and featured pictures of fruit, flowers, birds and rustic
scenery. These ornate pictures were then discarded along with the
debris of the feast.
As a fine
example of the table deckers craft, Woburn
Abbey in Bedford possesses an
ornate folding room screen with three leaves, decorated with sand
pictures protected by unflattened glass.
The centre one has
five spaces for sweetmeat
while the two side leaves of the screen have three spaces for fruit
trays. There are four sand pictures in each corner of the side
leaves of the screen, featuring 18th century pastoral scenes, while
the remaining areas of the screen are decorated with vines, fruit,
flowers etc. The screen would be laid upon the surface of a side
table and doubled as a servery for elaborate porcelain dishes and
glass trays containing fruits, bonbons and sweetmeats from which
the hosts and their guests could help themselves while socializing
or stretching their legs between the multiple courses being served
upon the main table in the dining hall. Possibly this was the work
of F. Schweikhardt who specialised in still life studies after the
style of the Dutch painter Jan van
Georgian Sand Painting (Marmortinto)
In the 18th and 19th c. when the House of Hanover ruled in England,
"table decking" was introduced to the court at Windsor Castle by
sand artists from Germany, the most accomplished of these being
George Haas, Benjamin Zobel and F. Schweikhardt. They fixed sand
paintings that became highly prized acquisitions by many of the
English aristocracy including the Kings brother, the Duke of York
who commissioned a number of works by Zobel.
The subjects tackled by Zobel included 'pigs in the manner of
Morland, 'Nelson. the favourite dog of the Duke of York', 'Tiger
after Stubbs', and even an impressive 'Vulture and snake'.Although
many of Zobels' works are still in existence, none of the sand
paintings by Haas have survived from the 19th century, although
observers considered they were superior to Zobels, which must
reflect upon the differing techniques used by each artist. A
diarist observed Zobel coating the surface of the baseboard with a
mixture of gum arabic
and white lead
and then sprinkling sand upon the
sticky surface using a folded paper funnel
a brush, he had to work fairly quickly since the adhesive would dry
in a few hours borne out by the fact that several of his surviving
pictures have unfinished work on the reverse.
Haas followed more closely the techniques developed in Japan,
mixing dry powdered gum arabic with the sand, sprinkling the
mixture through a sieve and using feathers as brushes to create the
pictures upon the baseboard, then fixing them by some method which
he kept a secret. Unfortunately, due to the damp conditions in many
of the stately homes of the day, his pictures failed to last more
than a few years. On one occasion Haas was called away while
working on an unfixed sand picture. When he returned he found one
of Windsor Castles' cats curled up on the picture, damaging
Zobel returned to Memmingen in Bavaria where he continued to successfully
pursue his craft.
Some of his work is displayed in Memmingen
Town Hall. The unfortunate Haas had to give up sand painting -
probably due to the ongoing disasters with his pictures. He opened
a baker shop in Windsor instead, though the icing on his cakes may
well have been decorated with pictures in coloured sugar instead of
With the passing of these Georgian craftsmen and the disposal of
the Duke of York's collection the interest and skills evolved in
sand picture work declined. The only Royal personage to take further
interest in the craft was the late Queen
Mary who bequeathed her Georgian sand paintings to the Victoria and
Albert Museum, and her collection of Isle of Wight sand pictures to Carisbrooke Castle Museum on the Isle of Wight.
In the first half of the 20th century Lt.-Colonel
Rybot was a keen collector of sand paintings, which were the source
material of the articles written on the subject in the arts and
crafts magazines of the day. Eventually 37 of his collection of
sand paintings were the main feature at an auction held at
Sotherby's New Bond Street gallery on June 15th 1956.
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
Aspiring sand crafters are now banned from
risking their lives climbing the cliffs to collect the 21 coloured
sands available in the bay, but the sand kiosks have always been
there to supply all their needs.
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 benifitted from the influx of wealthy visitors, and
a number of craftsmen sold their sand pictures and sand jars
featuring views of the Island as unique keepsakes of the Isle of
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
1840's. 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 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 completely lacking in taste or skill
being offered for sale for a few pence.
Sandpainting on the tiled floor (on
the wall are handpainted decorated tiles)
In the province of Drenthe
Netherlands in the late 19th, early 20th century it was custom to
use white sand for painting some simple decoration on the tiled
floor, mostly for special occasions or
celebrations. The next day it was swept up again.
Belgium 1973 was the centenary
year of the craft of "Old Zandtapijt". The hotels and cafes would
employ artisans to strew ornate sand pictures in unfixed coloured
sands on the tiled floors of their premises to encourage passing
tourists to halt and enjoy local hospitality on their way towards
Brussels. Roger de Boeck, born in 1930, was a well respected
exponent of this craft, who used glue to fix his sand pictures to a
suitable base selling them to visitors to his atelier. In addition
to biblical scenes, his finest works included a portrait of H M
Queen Elizabeth 1953, and President
, in the early 60s. A booklet to celebrate the centenary
was published on 1st February 1973.
days, sandpainting is most often practiced during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in
Mexico and the United States.
Streets are decorated with sand paintings
that are later swept away, symbolizing the fleeting nature of life.
are the sandpaintings done during the Seattle Dia De Muertos
Present day Sand Painting Techniques
With the revival of interest in craft subjects helped by a spate of
craft magazines encouraging readers to do it themselves, sand
painting skills have improved dramatically particularly in France,
North Africa and even on the Isle of Wight, thus the buyer is
asked, and prepared to pay a reasonable price for a work of art
worthy of the craft person's time and artistic effort, and with
modern methods and materials some outstanding standards are being
Sand painting is widely used in Grammar Schools and Preschools with
colored sand and glue or sticky boards for children to create art.
Many arts and craft companies sell sand painting kits but the craft
enthusiast can purchase by mail natural coloured sands from The
Alum Bay Sand Shop, Needles Pleasure Park,Isle of Wight, U.K., but
there is no substitute for the pleasure of consulting geological
maps and going out on field trips to collect a few of the many
thousands of different mineral charged sands it is possible to
obtain from sand pits, cliffs and even road works, provided one
takes sensible precautions.
- Caruna, W.(2003)'Aboriginal Art' Thames and Hudson, London,
- Eugene Baatsoslanii Joe,
Mark Bahti, Oscar T. Branson, Navajo Sandpainting Art, (Treasure
Chest Publications, Inc, 1978.) ISBN 0-918080-20-7
- Rochester, Vermont: Inner
- Villasenor, David.
Tapestries in Sand: The Spirit of Indian Sandpainting.
California, Naturegraph Company,
- Wilson, Joseph A.P.
"Relatives Halfway Round The World: Southern Athabascans and
Southern Tarim Fugitives," Limina, 11. 2005. pp. 67-78.
- Arthur Morrison. Japanese
- G.B.Hughes. Decorating the
Georgian Dessert Table.Country
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Queries, pp217/8 11.3.1854 
- J.Mummery. Marmortinto or
Queries, pp327/8 8.4.1854 
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Art" of sandpainting pp.215-221.The Connoisseur
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Sand.Antiques, March 1936.
- Bea Howe. Sand
Pictures.Homes and Gardens,
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and Morland pp.111-113.The Connoisseur-American
Edition , April 1955.
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Paintings.Sotherby and Co,
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Sand.[[The Lady], 22.1.1959.
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Crafts.[[Ward Lock], 1969.
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Collectors Handbook.[[Bell], 1970.
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Victorian Home.[[Barsford], 1973.
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Pictures.[[Wight Life], Oct-Nov. 1974.
- A.H.Trelawny. Keepsake Castles
in the Sand.[[Country Life], 2.2.1995.
- Etienne le compte. 1873 -
1973 Oud Zandtapijt published Hekelgem 1st February 1973.
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Jean. How to do Permanent Sand Paintings. Villasenor, David & Jean,
- K.Beese. Sand Painting
Techniques.[[Design 60], 1959.
Sandpainting.[[Creative Crafts], April 1974.
- Brian Pike. Painting with
Sand-Golden Hands Crafts-vol.70.[[Marshall Cavendish],
- Anon. Sand Art.[[Family Circle
Book of Crafts], 1980.
- Brian Pike. Sand
Painting.[[The Craftsman], Feb.1990.