Artist Sees – A Child’s World In Art

Newspaper article from November 1960 by Harry Rosenthal

Artist Arthur Kraft
“Look up! Look up!”

KANSAS CITY – Recently, during a heavy thunderstorm in the predawn hours, a long figure roamed the fairways of a Kansas City golf course exulting in the beauty of it all.

Artist Arthur Kraft considered it a natural thing to do. In fact, he wondered why more people weren’t there at 3 a.m. to see the spectacular display of lightning and driving rain.

“So much beauty goes to waste because people don’t bother to look,” says Kraft, who peers at life with the wide-eyed wonderment of a child. “Sometimes I want to shake people and say, `look up, look up, see how beautiful it all is.’

“I think like a child. What wonderful things they see. How easily they discard the ugly.”

The child-view world of 39 year-old Arthur Kraft, displayed through the craftsmanship of an adult, has put a menagerie of happy animals into the antiseptic beauty that is modern architecture.

At the entrance of the children’s wing of Kansas City’s new public library a whimsical parade of tile-formed creatures beckons young readers. Detroit’s mammoth new Northland shopping center is graced with Kraftian animals: a brass and red pussy cat, a laughing elephant joyfully waving his trunk and forelegs.

Most of Krafts sculpture is designed not only to look beautiful, but also to be climbed on, sat on and generally enjoyed by children.

“I don’t like things with little fences around them that say ‘stay off the art’,” he says.

Kraft prefers to work with architecture. “Art is something to be lived with every day, like food and water. It shouldn’t be hung away to be tasted seldom, if at all.”

Typically Kraft states that is favorite piece is the 35 foot library mural facing the street in the Kansas City civic center area. Done entirely in translucent glass tiles imported from Italy – each tile less than a half inch wide – the mural’s 80 colors and hundreds of subtle shadings blend into a dazzling and traffic-stopping panorama of color.

It has become quite a game among passers-by to find all the animals hidden in the trees and brush in the mural.

Kraft regards it as his finest work because it is for children. “If it can open the eyes of one youngster to beauty, it will be a success.” he says.

Despite his seriousness about art and children, Kraft works hard at being a character. He is a fun loving man with an absurd sense of humor.

He won a national painting award (the Audubon) years ago with a work titles “New York as seen by a casual observer through my great aunt Jennifer’s ouija board.”

In 1954 Kraft was chosen one of the country’s 10 outstanding young men by the National Junior Chamber of Commerce. A casual dresser, addicted to tie-less white shirts and tight corduroy pants, he found himself without a suit proper for the award-receiving occasion.

The man who sold him the suit recalls this conversation:

“I want a suit.”
“What kind of suit?”
“Oh, a black suit, I guess.”
“Well, (taking a black suit from a rack) here’s a black suit.”
“That one will be fine.”

Kraft has had one man shows at the Seligmann, a major New York gallery, and at the Laudau galleries, among others. For the latter he had 15 painting on the theme “Saints and Angels.” During the show the gallery burned and the only painting salvaged was a fierce portrait of the devil. He puts no mystic interpretations on this.

Kraft fancies bugs and has a large collection of preserved insects in his room. “See the beautiful colors in his eyes,” he’ll say to a visitor who is shrinking from a large roach.

For a studio, Kraft used a large basement room. At times, while making the library mosaic he had up to 20 helpers, mostly volunteers, pasting the tiles on large sheets he had mapped out.

No matter how busy he is Kraft will stop to be cordial to visitors. While pushing the deadline on an important painting for a New York fashion salon, he stopped to help a neighborhood candy store operator arrange the various colored sweets into an eye-pleasing display.

“It’s as important to him to have a beautiful package as it is to General Motors to have a beautiful car,” Kraft said, adding: “ And it’s important to me that things be beautiful.”

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