Today , 131 years ago, my grandfather was born. My son recently traveled to Holland and did a genealogy search and discovered art work from my late grandfather. As an artist, I was immediately intrigued by this find and amazed by his artistry. It looks like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!
My grandfather, Opa Albert Klein Sprokkelhorst was born on November 7th, 1887 and died on November 10th, 1968.
November will mark the 50th anniversary of my grandfather’s passing. I had just turned 7 years old in October 1968 and I remember the year well. I had the chicken pox that November and my mother had made me an oatmeal bath to sooth the itching.
I can still remember my mother calling my grandfather overseas that Sunday, November 10th from Texas to wish him happy birthday. Before Skype and the internet, calling Holland long-distance by telephone was expensive. So instead of calling him on his actual birthday, that Thursday, November 7, 1968 when he turned 81, she decided to call on Sunday, the 10th.
It was a shock when we learned he had passed away that day, 3 days after his birthday. My mother spoke to his wife who had said he was out singing with friends and died that day. I can still remember the shock on her face and the cries.
My Opa was a famous Opera tenor in Amsterdam during the 1920’s.
When we left for the United States from Holland to Texas that January 1968, my father was already here and waiting for us. We were sponsored to come to the United States by my fathers sister, Susie Dean (formerly Susie Klein Sprokkelhorst).
Susie Klein Sprokkelhorst was well known in Holland during the 1930’s. She was known as a singer, a reciter and an actress. In 1934 she played the part of Blonde Greet in one of the first Dutch talkies (Movies), ‘De Jantjes’. In May 1936 she married a wealthy businessman named Sally Friedmann and emigrated with him to the USA. She lived in Corpus Christi, Texas where she died at 84 on April 2, 1995.
We visited and saw my grandfather before we left and he was utterly heartbroken to see us leave. He asked my mother repeatedly to please come back to Holland next year to visit, or he would travel to see us. No one realized that this was the last time we would see my grandfather.
I remember his garden and how happy he always was to see us. He had a small house in Holland with a strip of garden in the back. This was common in Holland; small, rectangular lots of row homes with small gardens in the rear.
I was 7, my sister was 11 and my brother 5. We would visit grandfather often. I remember taking naps in his small guest room and how I woke to his singing and practiced vocal scales. As a young child, memory fades. There are certain memories that I still have concerning my grandfather. I remember how he was waiting for us in our apartment after walking from the hospital when my father had his gallbladder removed. I still remember seeing him sitting in the large picture window as we walked up the street that sunny, cold day in Holland along the Klaas Katerstraat.
As mentioned in the introduction, my son recently traveled to Holland and sent me photos of his trip. He had asked me to paint some scenes and I was happy to do so. He notified me that he had found some of his great-grandfathers art work on the internet and I was immediately intrigued. Many of them were pastels of waterbirds and parrots that he drew in 1930 at the Artist Royal Zoo in Amsterdam. I had not known that he drew pastels. I had known that my grandfather loved art. I only knew from a young age that he painted oils and Dutch landscapes.
This very painting of a Dutch landscape adorns the bedroom where my own father died in 2011. It’s a beautiful painting of a typical thatched Dutch farmhouse with cows grazing in the background with an intense blue stream and beautiful blooming trees.
I also grew up with the oil painting of a deteriorating country house on a lonely wooded road hanging in our living room.
I thought it was strange, not in perspective. Like a room at a fun house where the walls are twisted and the floors not straight. The gate that almost looks as if it is about to break and fall off. That always intrigued me. I always knew this painting as the one Opa painted near the end of this life. I didn’t realize that my grandfather or Opa as we called him was much more than a oil painter. He also created the most colorful and beautiful pastels, some as early as 1930.
My grandfather worked, lived and died in the city he loved, Amsterdam, Holland. There is not a lot that I know about his early years except that he was an Opera singer, comedian and artist.
He sang as a tenor under the name Alberti and performed for some time as a Pierrot singer in the 1920’s. He became best known as a humorist. He worked on “Orpheus in the underworld” by Jacques Offenbach, art nights led by Max van Gelder, some revues (“Turn around”, “Sand about it”, etc.), cheering (“The golden spider” of Von Schönthan) and operettas (“Vienna, city of dreams” by R. Lange and L. Noiret).
He grew up in what would be known as Dutch vaudeville or a vaudevillian actor. He also owned a photography studio in Holland in the 1930’s with his son, Albert Klein Sprokkelhorst Jr — my father.
As a 7 year old boy, I had no idea that he was such a versatile artist. Now, at 57, I only recently discovered his pastels and other works of art. What made the discovery even more amazing was that fact that, in this year, his 50 year anniversary of his passing, his early pastels where of water birds, particularly flamingos, some very much like what I had recently painted for the Rockport Arts Festival.
I painted my flamingo series months before I discovered his series of birds that he drew from the Artis Amsterdam Royal Zoo. Unbeknownst to me, there was a striking similarity in these works, his pastels drawn in 1930 and my watercolors painted in 2018.
Here are just a few of my series of waterbirds that I painted this year for the Rockport Arts Festival.
Some of the most beautiful discoveries are his renditions of parrots and other birds likely drawn at the Artis Amsterdam Royal Zoo, which was founded in 1838 and is one of the oldest zoos in all of Europe. Many of these pastels were drawn as early as 1930. The pastels resonate a deep and rich color to these works as if they were just drawn yesterday. Many of these pastels were probably inspired by the birds he saw at the Artis Amsterdam Royal Zoo.
Here are some of his pastels I discovered on the internet:
I also painted some of his pastels in his honor for this post and discovery.
So, as an honor to his 50 years since his time here and some 85 years ago when he drew this series of pastels, this is my homage, to my opa, my grandfather, Albert Klein Sprokkelhorst.