John Henry Vanderpoel (1857-1911)
The cradle of John Henry Vanderpoel (1857-1911) rocked in the land of windmills and tulips, but it was in the “City of Big Shoulders” where his great talent for art was nurtured and where he gained world-wide fame as instructor for the greatest art school in the Midwest, and as author of the most remarkable art book of its time.
Vanderpoel’s parents, John and Maria (nee van Nes), made their living in the flax business in Rijsoord (now Ridderkerk), near Amsterdam, Holland. When the flax crop failed, they moved with six children to Haarlemmermeer, on the outskirts of Haarlem, where John H. and three other siblings were born. After the death of his wife, Vanderpoel’s father, convinced by correspondence with friends of great opportunities in America, set sail aboard The New York, on June 11, 1868, with his ten children: Maria, Adrianus, Jan, Hendricka, William, Johanne (John H.), Elizabeth, Macheltje (Matilda), Cornelius, and Cornelia, plus Maria’s fiancée, Bastian Leenheer.
Of limited means, steerage was their only option for travel. The money ran out in New York and funds had to be borrowed to complete the trip to Chicago. Vanderpoel’s father spent many sleepless nights before the family was on a firm financial footing.
The family arrived in Chicago aboard a Lake Shore emigrant car on July 11, 1868. Because of language difficulties, the little group wandered a long time looking for their friend’s home. When they were settled in an area called Little Bohemia (now Pilsen), he would return home from his laborer’s job and walk the children to classes. He made sure they learned the language of their adopted country. Every Sunday, the Vanderpoels attended services at the Methodist Episcopal Church on Halsted Street. They heard sermons which shaped their character and they sang with a caring congregation from hymnals printed in Dutch on one page and English on the other.
Young John’s love of art had blossomed since age nine when he took his first freehand drawing lessons at the little polytechnic school in Kruisdorp, Holland. His father brought home an architect of Dutch lineage and Bohemian background to teach drawing to the children in their new Chicago home. John and his younger sister Matilda showed great talent. John sought instruction in art wherever he could. In the public schools his blackboard drawings astonished schoolmates. He attended Sunday afternoon classes conducted at Turner Hall in downtown Chicago, sponsored by the Chicago Turngemeinde.