Kansas City Jackson County Star article by D.P. Breckenridge – June 29, 1983
Ambassador’s Walls Reveal a Mural, a Mystery
Surprise! When the vinyl in the lobby came off, the workmen saw a mural of Downtown Kansas City and the Missouri River – or rather, those scenes as they were decades ago, before the painting was covered and forgotten.
Hotel co-owner Ralph Zarr examined the mural and suspected he had stumbled onto a work by the late Arthur Kraft, a Kansas City painter and sculptor. By the time Mr. Zarr returned to the hotel June 20, four days after the discovery, his research had convinced him he had a Kraft work on his hands.
Surprise! It wasn’t there any longer.
Mr. Zarr got to the hotel at 8 a.m. that day, but the workmen had gotten there earlier. Continuing their renovation, they had covered the mural with plasterboard.
The story has a happy ending: Mr. Zarr has hired Duard Marshall, an artist who was a longtime friend of Mr. Kraft, to uncover the painting again and restore it. Mr. Marshall said last week that he has definitely identified the mural as a Kraft, and it should soon be as good as new.
But the two men are keeping their fingers crossed. If the saga of this mural has taken some unexpected twists, that would be nothing unusual for Mr. Kraft, who was one of Kansas City’s most colorful and flamboyant artists before he died in 1977.
Mr. Zarr and Mr. Marshall have described him as “extremely likeable,” a “great talent,” a “hell of an artist.” He also has been described, affectionately, as “eccentric – very eccentric.”
And if anyone ever fit the stereotype of a head-in-the-clouds artist, Mr. Kraft was the man.
Mr. Kraft may not have been an artist of international stature, but finding a long-forgotten work of his “would be significant for Kansas City,” said John W. Lottes, president of the Kansas City Art Institute.
“He did a lot of work here, and he was loved by a lot of people,” Mr. Lottes said. “During a period of years when the visual arts here did not get much attention, Arthur, because of his guts and aggressiveness, kept the arts visible.”
Even if Mr. Kraft’s friends were to forget him – which is not likely, considering the stories they still tell – his work remains in public view. For example, the mosaic at the entrance of the Children’s Library at the Kansas City Public Library Downtown is a Kraft.
Perhaps it was appropriate that the hotel mural was discovered in a comedy of errors, because that apparently is how it was painted and then lost.
Mr. Zarr said Mr. Kraft probably painted the mural “at a time when he was down on his luck and needed money.”
“An argument ensued over how much he should be paid,” Mr. Zarr surmised, “and he refused to sign the durn thing.”
Mr. Marshall chuckled, “It’s kind of like a detective story, isn’t it?”
One of Peter Sellers’ “Pink Panther” comedies, perhaps. And a Kansas City artist who sculpted playful penguins for shopping centers and once had a lion for a house guest is having the last laugh.
Arthur Kraft Ambassador mural in 2012