Upon entering the Jopie Huisman museum, I can see his rags immortalised in oil paint on the walls. My patience is tested by the lady behind the counter who first wants to tell me about a podcast following three disappeared paintings, the functioning of the audio tour, the possibility to vote for the promotion of a work from the depot to the gallery of honour in the cathedral of Huisman’s art and a film about the life of the Frisian painter, draughtsman and watercolourist.

Zelfportret als fuikvisser (1987)
Self-portrait as a trap fisherman (1987)

Jopie Huisman (1922- 2000) was an artistic late bloomer. It was only after his divorce in 1973 that he threw himself into capturing garments that were considered discards by his compatriots. As a rag-and-bone man, he had developed an eye for details that most others ignored. Decades before the rest of the world would concern itself with sustainability, Huisman was giving everyday utensils a second life. In a worn shirt, shoe or coat, he recognised the soul of its former owner. He united a person’s first and last pair of shoes on a canvas; as in the annual rings of a tree, he saw a whole life passing by in a pair of pants adjusted 133 times. In the case of a pair of children’s shoes, it sometimes involved many generations.

Eerste en laatste schoenen
The first and the last pair of shoes, pen drawing and water colour (1974)

Like his great example Vincent van Gogh, Jopie Huisman had an eye for the outcasts of the earth. In 1984, gallery het Weefhuis in Nuenen in Brabant exhibited some of Huisman’s works together with those of the life-troubled genius Van Gogh. When the gallery was broken into, the thieves made off not with the Van Goghs, but with three of Huisman’s canvases. It didn’t fill the Frisian artist with pride, but with an unfathomably deep sadness. Never again was his work allowed to be exhibited elsewhere, Huisman said.

Boer op het land
Farmer at Workumerwaard, oil paint on board (1950)

The artist’s attitude led to the now thriving museum in his native Workum. At the opening in 1992, comedian Freek de Jonge gave Jopie Huisman the honorary title: painter of compassion.

Red shirt, oil paint on canvas (1975)

Huisman knew what the world had to offer, but his simple existence in the Holle Mar near Workum was more than enough for him. In this Frisian Paradise, he enjoyed nature and his wrist-thick self-caught and smoked eel.

Self-portrait, oil paint on canvas (1973)