Watercolor artist Joseph “Tony” van Hasselt, 84, died at home on Jan. 20, 2022 following a difficult battle with cancer. A prolific painter, Tony left behind a voluminous body of paintings, but his proudest legacy would be the thousands of artists, his students, who learned at his side.
Born in Beverwijk, Holland in 1937, Tony spent his formative years in Alkmaar, raised by his German mother. Life in Nazi occupied Holland was difficult, but his mother tried to shield him from the traumas of war as well as she could. Wartime conditions left him malnourished, and after the war, the Red Cross sent Tony to live with a foster family in Belgium to recover. Tony maintained his connection to his Belgian family, always grateful for the nuns who skimmed the cream from milk to help him regain his strength. As many of you who have ever fed him know, he maintained a deep and abiding appreciation for anyone preparing him food.
Later reunited with his mother in Holland, Tony began sketching and critiquing other young artists. With survival a continued focus, he found creative work designing and constructing window displays and working as a sign painter for several years.
But jobs were scarce in post-war Holland. In 1955, Tony and his mother, neither of whom spoke much English, emigrated to the United States. With encouragement from a Tulsa, Oklahoma newspaper editor, they moved to Tulsa, setting their sights on U.S. citizenship. He assembled toys and other items for Sears Roebuck, deciphering inscrutable instructions in a foreign tongue, and navigating language and cultural differences with customers and coworkers. Tony always found humor, sometimes at his own expense, in the confusion of multiple languages and American drawls. He appreciated the English language’s quirky yet forgiving nature, loved learning or using a new word, and reveled in a groan-worthy pun.
In Tulsa, Tony found friends and camaraderie in the Army Reserves, as well in Catholic Youth Activities. He married his first wife and fathered two children, Chris and Marianne. He worked in an advertising agency, putting his artistic talents to work in graphic design and layout.
To satisfy his creative aspirations, he attended weekly classes with acclaimed artist Jay O’Meilia, who encouraged Tony to pursue training in New York, at the Frank J. Reilly School of Art. In New York, Tony forged life-long friendships with well-known artists whose work he admired. He coordinated workshops for them in Europe, sitting in on their classes and demonstrations. He believed this was the start of his true art education. These early workshops inspired his later business ventures.
After two years in New York, financial and familial demands brought Tony back to Tulsa. There he took a risk to found “Painting Holidays,” becoming a trailblazer for art workshops. He recruited his wife and children for any jobs they were capable of, from answering phones to stuffing envelopes. With French easel in tow, he traveled the globe teaching thousands of students. His reputation as a painter and teacher grew, and in 1972 he was awarded signature membership in the American Watercolor Society.
Tony brought his plein air techniques to print in his 1982 book, “Outdoor Watercolor Workshop.” Writing the book and a heavy workshop schedule took their toll, and Tony and his late wife Mary Jo parted ways. He continued his workshops with an intentional focus on doing what he loved – painting, and teaching – instead of the administrative tasks. On that new path, he found a colleague and partner in the late Judi Wagner. A superb artist in her own right, Tony and Judi published two books together, and co-taught workshops.He produced instructional videos, and later DVDs.
Tony was comfortable painting in a sketchbook in out of the way places, and equally comfortable in front of students, demonstrating techniques or gently critiquing a student’s work. Splashing paint over acetate atop a student’s painting, he would guide students to see their watercolor through another lens. He loved the speed of watercolor, pushing painters to paint “fast and loose.” He enjoyed getting his shoes wet and pants dirty exploring new painting locations. He entertained his students while helping them improve, sharing his joy of painting. He brought smiles and laughter to the young children who gathered around his easel in his outdoor studio. He respected his students, knowing they were looking for encouragement, not fault-finding. The path he chose led to an extraordinary and diverse web of not just fellow painters but also beloved friends across the world.
Tony settled in Maine and in 1997, Tony and Janis McEvoy wed, sharing an East Boothbay home. Jan loved the “happy nomad” in him, and they ventured together on plein air workshops worldwide, returning home to welcome friends and family to their gracious home. Tony’s final workshop was in the summer of 2021, though he planned to continue teaching had his health allowed. From computer pros to accountants to the familiar friendly faces at the post office, Tony was always grateful for the expertise in his community. Tony also generously donated art works for community causes and was a longtime member of the Boothbay Region Art Foundation.
Tony is survived by his wife, Janis van Hasselt; son Chris van Hasselt and wife Carol Brooke; grandson Kyle van Hasselt; daughter Marianne van Hasselt; nephew Adriaan Duiveman and wife Marianne and their family; and bonus children Kristen McEvoy and Barry McEvoy. The world will miss Tony’s gifts as an artist and teacher, but we will miss his warmth, kindness, spark, humor, generous spirit, reminders not to take life (or ourselves) too seriously, obsessive dishwasher loading, love of salty Dutch licorice, joy on the dance floor and impressive wig collection.
Tony’s life was spirited and joyful, but his cancer was aggressive and cruel. The family appreciates the outpouring of compassion from friends near and far, and wishes to especially thank Wendy Jackson, RN, of Maine Health Hospice for her extraordinary kindness, warmth and commitment to easing a painful dying process, Adriaan Duiveman for the comfort that only he could provide with love and end of life prayers in Dutch and Dr. Brian Haney and the team at New England Cancer Specialists for their efforts. In lieu of flowers, at Tony’s request, donations may be made to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital ,22 Bramhall St, Portland, ME 04102.
Celebration of life plans will be announced at a time when it is safer to gather. Tony will be sorry to miss the party.
For the record, he went out in Bob Ross socks.
Hall’s of Boothbay has care of the arrangements. To extend online condolences, please visit hallfuneralhomes.com