On the initiative of the socially engaged chaplain Rutten, who had long been involved in providing an education for poor children in Maastricht, the teacher, drawing tutor and dialect writer Fons Olterdissen founded a drawing school. Starting out with four students, Fons appointed himself director. Teaching was not his strong suit, and the education inspector had plenty to say about his teaching methods. He was very disorganized, and his speech was said to be slow and whiny. However: he did have a knack for storytelling, particularly about the history of Maastricht.
To give poor people an opportunity to develop their skills, in 1889 chaplain Rutten founded the Netherlands’ first patronaat, a charitable educational institute. Olterdissen's drawing school was run along the same lines and became part of the ‘patronaat.’ Olterdissen and Rutten shared many common interests. Olterdissen was willing, often at his own expense, to provide the many poor workers’ children of Maastricht with food and clothing and, on occasion, accommodation. He would also go and tackle bosses head-on about the workers’ problems.
Many people were touched by Olterdissen's passion and commitment, including a certain Victor de Stuers. When he saw his students spending their day off sitting in a freezing cold room, practising drawing, he was moved to provide money and premises to keep Olterdissen's ideas alive. Despite this, the school remained severely strapped for cash. On its 25th anniversary, it had eight teachers and 200 students, who were learning a traditional craft. Some students were keen to stay at the school when they turned seventeen. Fons Olterdissen did not receive a salary from the school, instead earning an income from helping out in his mother's tobacco shop on Boschstraat, particularly on busy market days.