Rotterdam street figures (1941) Johan van Berkel
After the bombing, rebuilding of the city started immediately and artists and sculptors were involved in this reconstruction work. The Rotterdam architect Jan Hendriks commissioned the Rotterdam sculptor Johan van Berkel in 1941 to make a series of facade images for the Minervahuis on the Meent. Van Berkel immortalized prominent victims of the bombing. These 'Rotterdam street figures' consist of the Balloon lady, The Pigeon female (who scattered food for the Laurenskerk pigeons for years), the Fishwoman of Harmonica player, Boefje of Boat Worker and the Little man with the paper mills. These were figures who had given color to the street scene of the pre-war inner city. These folk figures also refer to the demise of the old slums in the inner city, where poverty, crime, prostitution and alcoholism had flourished. That loss was not the result of the bombing. Because before the war the city council had already started with the demolition of the slums and the restructuring of the city center. These seven facing bricks form together with The community workers (1941) from Koos van Vlijmen and The architect (1940) en Fleeing woman and child (1940) from Han Richters to the sculpture group of first war monuments in Rotterdam.
Johan van Berkel (1913-1956) was a Dutch sculptor. Between 1927 and 1937 he learned the art of sculpting in the evening classes at the Academy of Visual Arts and Technical Sciences in Rotterdam. He was a plasterer during the day and later taught at a technical school. He was described as a promising artist at the time, but he died at a relatively young age.