As a young boy, Heerup attended Charlottegade School during the period 1913–21. Heerup did not enjoy school much. He found arithmetic especially difficult, so his time was spent observing and drawing his surroundings. The earliest of Heerup’s drawings in our possession date from 1917–20, depicting a bird, a soldier, and his uncle’s dog, Rørbus.

The Heerup Museum has a large collection of drawings from sketch pads or small slips of paper that would fit neatly into a trouser pocket. Heerup used these drawings as an inventory of thoughts and ideas, he could go back to later and drawing was important in his artistic work. ’How wonderful to rummage in one’s drawing cupboard and, now and again, revisit the many sketches and partly finished drawings that reveal the innermost stirrings of the mind and testify to the eye’s experiences’, Heerup wrote about his attitude to drawing.[1]

Everyday life at Nørrebro during his childhood and youth made a great impression on the young Heerup and, throughout his life, trams, old-fashioned police helmets, hurdy-gurdy men, and dustmen frequently appeared in his works. The young Heerup was especially fond of dustmen:

’The cubical box that he carries. And his body turning into a living ornament with the box. And the spiral movement when he lifts the box onto his back. It has associations to one’s childhood mornings when one was awoken by the clanging of dustcarts. The dustman symbolises the second death of dead things. The things people use in their lives are thrown away and die.’ [2]

As a finder of things and a pathological collector, Heerup discovered great symbolic significance in the morning routines of dustmen. Especially the original junk sculptures made of anything from old toys to bicycle parts and bottle tops reference the dustman and the recycling idea. ‘Everything has a soul’, he would often exclaim as a reminder of his childhood hardships, but also as a tribute to everyday life, living, and, not least, nature. The dustman epitomised, if any, Heerup’s wish to give renewed life to the waste and objects discarded by society.

  1. Heerup, Henry: Min Arbejdsbog. Grafodan’s New Year Series, no. 5, p. 7
  2. Virtus Schade: Heerup, p. 16