About Adolph Vandertie

I design one thing at a time as I go down a piece of wood. I never know what it's going to be 'til it's finished. ~Adolph Vandertie

Adolph Vandertie, who would become the “Grand Duke of the Hobos,” began his life in northern Wisconsin. He was born May 25, 1911, on a small farm near the Wisconsin community of Lena. His parents provided a 16-by-20-foot log cabin for Adolph and his nine siblings.

Early in Adolph's life, his parents moved the family to a hotel and tavern in Lena that became the family home and business. Shortly after the move, his parents divorced. Adolph's mother continued to manage the business but Prohibition caused the family to fall on hard times.

His mother moved the family to Green Bay when Adolph was about nine years old. During these difficult Depression years, Adolph's mother worked as a custodian to support her family. While Adolph's interest in tramp and hobo art can be traced back to his grandfather, who had learned the arts as a prisoner of war during the U.S. Civil War, the artist in Adolph was awakened by exposure to the “hobo jungles” — camps where hobos spent time when they weren't riding the rails.

Adolph preferred stories of adventure rather than focusing on his schoolwork. He spent much of his time creating cartoons and daydreaming, and then began to ride the rails himself. He ate Mulligan Stew with the hobos and watched as they whittled sticks and scrap wood to pass the time. About this time, Adolph saw a fellow hobo whittle a ball-in-cage — the quintessential trademark of a hobo whittler. Adolph was hooked!

At the age of 21, Adolph put his hobo days behind him. It was time to look for work and Adolph learned there were jobs available at a brewery in St. Louis. When Adolph announced he was leaving for St. Louis, his sweetheart, Adeline, proposed. They were married soon after and began their long life together in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Little did Adeline know that her future home would also be home to thousands of unique and interesting pieces of tramp and hobo art.

Adolph acquired his first tramp art piece, a beautiful two-tiered covered box, from his brother. This sparked his interest in collecting. Soon afterwards he began creating hundreds of his own pieces until his collection eventually numbered 4,000 pieces. Most are Adolph's own work, some are gifts from other hobo artists, and others are spectacular pieces that Adolph acquired because of their uniqueness and significance to the collection.

As he grew older, whittling became a form of therapy for Adolph, a focus that enabled him to overcome an addiction to both alcohol and tobacco and freed him to create more and more of his unbelievably intricate works of art. As the world celebrated a new millennium, Adolph personally celebrated fifty years of sobriety.

The end result of Adolph's countless hours of whittling was a man who found peace and contentment in a sharp blade and a good piece of wood. A man who collected and created whimsies, tramp art boxes and frames, and incredible furniture pieces carved and whittled in a way that only the most skilled hands could accomplish. Almost every type of hobo and tramp art can be found in Adolph Vandertie's collection: chip-carved boxes and frames, ball-in-cage whimsies, long chains created from a single piece of wood, and “crown-in-thorns” that are fit without benefit of nails or glue. Adolph Vandertie amassed an amazing collection of historical and artistic importance.

A large portion of The Adolph Vandertie Collection of Tramp Art resides at the Ashwaubenon Historical Museum where the public, scholars, artists, and fellow whittlers can view and enjoy this body of work. The other major portion of Adolph Vandertie's body of work resides at:

The John Michael Kohler Arts Center
608 New York Avenue
Sheboygan, Wisconsin