The 1930s were productive and rewarding years for Heerup. He graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and his career took off in earnest with a number of exhibitions as a guest of the artists’ group Corner in 1932, at the Artists’ Autumn Exhibition in 1933, not forgetting the major exhibition held by Linien in 1934. ‘There was plenty of collaboration. We passionately supported the same cause,’[1] Heerup later commented on this decisive exhibition among friends where also Richard Mortensen, Ejler Bille, Hans Øllgaard, and Vilhelm Bjerke Petersen showed. At this exhibition, Heerup presented his sensational junk sculptures or ’junk models’, as he called them:

’No snobbery, inverse or otherwise. Any person makes their own “junk model”. Start now. You can use anything you like. An “artwork” doesn’t improve just because it’s more durable. “My best artwork” isn’t “Venus on horseback” in gold(digger) frame with a bishop’s staff or a marble clock. Smashingly grand porcelain. Royal ting-a-ling. ”My artwork” is straightforward and the coloured bits lend the whole thing the contrast and richness that offset gold and marble.’ [2]

The junk models articulated Heerup’s boundless creative urge and love for the life and soul of the humblest of materials. At this time, he was exploring a number of different techniques and materials. In 1930, for example, he carved his first work in stone: a 16 x 16 cm marble relief of his mother, Sera, in profile, fashioned with a screwdriver and a hammer and framed using old bits of boarding in different colours. Heerup also did several clay and plasticine figures of various animals from the Zoo. Nevertheless, it was the junk models and the numerous stone sculptures from this decade that lent him initial fame. Together, they demonstrate his unique imagination, curiosity, and zest for work.

During this critical time, Heerup fell in love. He adored Emilie Westh, called Mille, a weaver from the island of Bornholm and they married in 1933 as some of the first in their circle of friends. They moved into a small two-roomed flat in Gothersgade, doubling as both exhibition space and home besides being a meeting place for the friends from Linien. Sera also left Nørrebrogade and joined them at Gothersgade, perhaps to assist them, for in 1934, a new little Heerup was born. Their son Ole brought them great joy and while the nappies were drying in the living room, the ever industrious Heerup carved stones in the block’s small yard.

Moreover, in 1935, Heerup was awarded a travel grant. He invited Mille to go to Jelling to see the Jelling Stones, in Heerup’s words, ’the most significant outdoor stone work we have in this country.’ The ornamentation of the Jelling Stones provided the inspiration for the carpet beater motif whose meticulous pattern and sinuous lines can be traced in many of his works.

The following year, the family moved from Copenhagen to a rented house with a garden at Rødtjørnevej in Vanløse. Now, Heerup had the opportunity to carve stones out of doors for real. He quickly filled the garden with innumerable stone sculptures. This year saw the birth of Nanna Heerup (married name: Hertoft). Everyday family life and, not least, the children’s carefree play inspired Heerup to do a series of family pictures, all of which characterise his unique universe filled with innocence, a childlike mind, and everyday symbols.

[1] Schade p. 50

[2] Helhesten, 1943, p. 94