Category Archives: News and Articles

Reminiscing about Kansas City Artist Arthur Kraft

I knew and saw Arthur a few times a year when I was a child and occasionally, but less, as I was growing. My father and Arthur shared many a beer together. Arthur would show up during the fall and winter holidays. I recall sitting beside him on the piano bench at the home of another mutual friend one winter. Arthur was playing an exquisite piece of music. I asked him if he took lessons when he was my age. (I was about 8 or 9 at the time) He responded that he had never had any lessons. I was awestruck! His music was nothing less than beautiful!

One winter while Arthur was at our house (and while visiting the homes of many others) he plucked one of the aluminum branches from our Christmas tree for his chandelier. We later visited Arthur at his own apartment on the Plaza. We found all the various pieces he had collected throughout his travels to the homes of many friends all fashioned into his own sort of upside-down Christmas tree hanging from his chandelier. His creativity just abounded.

Yes, he and my father both drank more than anyone should. But as a child I was drawn by his gentleness and kindness. On more than one occasion he related that his mother had twice had him committed to what he called “The Funny Farm”. And then with a huge smile he said, “The important thing is not whether you get in there or not, it is IF you can get out!” As I grew and remembered his statement I began to understand it more clearly.

Arthur only spoke well of people, with the exception of all and any that had a love for abstract art. He was quite candid (at least to us and in our home) about his feeling that it was nonsense. There was a time he told of being asked over and over again to create a piece of art for an abstract art competition. He stated that he had repeatedly declined. When the request just kept coming at him he agreed. However, as he told the story, he would prove the folly of it. This is how it was explained to my family and myself. Arthur bought a very long piece of canvas and laid it stretched to its length on a barn floor. (I do not know whose barn) He then related how he took his artist brushes and dipped heavily and individually in each color of paint and flung it at the canvas, as he would walk by. Then he would do this again and again each day as he walked by or around the canvas. On the floor he said he set several sheet cake pans each with a different color of paint in it. He would let his dog Duncan, a short dog with long hair, walk through the pans and wherever he wanted to roam across the canvas. Between the two of them they filled the canvas with color, shapes, and textures. After all this “foolishness” as Arthur called it, he won first place! He said that surely proved his point.

When I got married my father told Arthur that he wanted him to paint something for me as a wedding gift. He did. I have it in my home. Arthur said it is “A Bride Looking For Her Star.”

– Kathleen Johnson


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Arthur Kraft 1959: Well-Known K.C. Artist Is Beaten and Robbed

Newspaper clipping from the Lawrence Daily Journal-World – October 8, 1959:

Well-Known K.C. Artist Is Beaten and Robbed
Arthur Kraft, 38, well known Kansas City artist, was beaten and robbed in a parking lot Wednesday night.

Kraft was named by the Junior Chamber of Commerce as one of the 10 outstanding young men in the nation in 1954.

Police said he apparently was struck repeatedly on the head and face with a pistol butt as he started to enter his car at 5050 Main. His billfold, containing $20, and a watch were taken.

He was taken to a hospital, where attendants said his condition was satisfactory.

Kraft is working on several sculptures for a new shopping center in Indianapolis and on murals for Kansas City’s new public library.


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Arthur Kraft 1983 Newspaper Article “Ambassador’s Walls Reveal a Mural, a Mystery”

Kansas City Jackson County Star article by D.P. Breckenridge – June 29, 1983

Ambassador’s Walls Reveal a Mural, a Mystery

It was a routine job, removing old vinyl wall coverings during renovations at the Ambassador Hotel, 3560 Broadway…

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.

Duard Marshall removes adhesive and drywall from a newly discovered mural at the Ambassador Hotel, which is being renovated. Mr. Marshall and other art experts have established that the mural was painted by the late Kansas City artist Arthur Kraft. (staff photo by John W. Switzer)

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


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Carter Art Center 2003 Exhibition “Rediscovering Arthur Kraft”

Photos from the 2003 exhibition “Rediscovering Arthur Kraft” at the Carter Art Center, Penn Valley Community College, Kansas City, Missouri.

The exhibition was curated by Sherman Reed Anderson Ph.D.

Dr. Anderson also curated “The Art and Words of Arthur Kraft” for the Albrecht-Kemper Museum, St. Joseph, Missouri in 2002.

 

 

 

In support of the Arthur Kraft Scholarship, the FRIENDS of the Carter Art Center along with the MCC Foundation are selling original Arthur Kraft “Tree of Life” lithographs for $150. Lithographs are signed by Arthur Kraft and numbered.

To purchase one for your collection visit the Carter Art Center or click here for ordering information: http://mcckc.edu/pennvalley/art/friends

 

 

 

The Carter Center for Visual Arts

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“Kansas City Artist, Arthur Kraft, Dies” Obituary From September 29, 1977

Arthur M. Kraft…working to end

The Kansas City Times obituary – September 29, 1977

Kansas City Artist, Arthur Kraft, Dies

Arthur M. Kraft, Kansas City artist, died yesterday at the Veterans Hospital in Topeka.

Kraft 55, was born in Kansas City and had lived here most of his life except for a short period in New York and World War II service with the Army Air Forces.

A painter and a sculptor in clay and metal, Kraft had shown his work in London, Paris and Rome and in numerous exhibitions here and in other cities in this country. He was best known here for such works as the mosaic at the entrance to the Children’s Library at the Kansas City Public Library and the bronze fountain in the arcade at the Commerce Towers but he left his mark through such creations as a 10-ton laughing elephant at a Detroit shopping center, penguins at a center in Indianapolis and a trio of walruses for a Cleveland center.

Friends described him as an overly generous man, one who loved to play practical jokes on people and to help others, a man who kept his sense of humor even through a long hospital treatment for cancer. Kraft had continued working despite his illness, completing a mural for the hospital waiting room before he died.

Kraft had struggled in recent years with health problems friends said were triggered by injuries suffered in an assault in 1959.

In 1946 Kraft won the Audubon Artist Society national painting award for a painting, “New York as Seen by a Casual Observer Through My Great Aunt Jennifer’s Ouija Board.” In 1948 he had a 1-man show of paintings at the Seligmann Gallery in New York, where critics were generous in praise, referring to his “uncanny talent.” In 1954 he was named by the Junior Chamber of Commerce as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men in America.

The late Thomas Hart Benton is reported to have said of Kraft’s early work: “He has better technique than I do if he’d only work harder at it.”

Kraft began painting when he borrowed a friend’s watercolor set at the age of five —without asking. When he was 13 he sold about 200 decorated matchboxes and several oil portraits at the Plaza Art Fair. The portraits showed such maturity that officials questioned whether the boy had done them.

His first formal training in art came in Saturday morning classes at the Nelson Gallery of Art. He graduated from Southwest High School and attended the Kansas City Art Institute for a semester, then entered the School of Fine Arts at Yale University, where he became art editor of the Yale Record. He joined the Army in 1943 and returned to Yale in 1946 to finish his degree.

Kraft’s loose relationship with money was almost legend. He went from payed his rent with a painting one month to comparative wealth the next upon being commissioned to do a mural or sculpture.

“I just want to be left alone to create,” he once said, “I don’t have any sense of money.” On another occasion when a new acquaintance kept talking about money, Kraft said: “My dear sir, you should refrain from making noises like an IBM machine.”

Although he was not a joiner his interest in helping others surfaced in volunteer work for the Kansas City Philharmonic and the United Cerebral Palsy campaign and he donated paintings to the annual auction of KCPT-TV, Channel 19.

He leaves his mother, Mrs. Mildred Kraft, and a brother, George Kraft, both of Horseshoe Bend, Ark., and two half sisters, Mrs. Annette Luyben, 9625 High Drive, Leawood, and Miss Mary Josephine Kraft.


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Arthur Kraft 1979 Newspaper Article Featuring The Court of the Penguins

Star Magazine article by Georgia Kidd – December 2, 1979

Chic – Chic Piece

Sheep Piece by Henry Moore

Sculpture in public places is a continuing pleasure to the passerby (“Sheep Piece” is a great example) and it’s one of the things that has marked the development sponsored by the JC Nichols Co. It always gives us good things to look at. It’s easy not to think of the Nichols Co. as a public service organization when it is so visibly a commercial enterprise, but it must be said that it builds what it builds with real style and an attention to quality that few other folks would even think of putting into shopping centers. That style and quality is a community service.

The Court of the Penguins is a fine example. For sheer chic, you can’t beat these shops – a little Gucci here, some Crabtree & Evelyn there. But while most of the best things in life aren’t free, as the shops show us, some of the best things in the Court of the Penguins are: the Penguins themselves and their environment, which doesn’t cost a cent to enjoy.

The Penguins are five-foot bronze reproductions of miniatures, which originally stood at three to four inches tall by the late Arthur Kraft, a local artist famous for, among other things, the mural at Westport Bank, the mosaic mural at the Children’s Library and the sculpture in the garden at Commerce Bank.

Kraft’s work had a whimsical side (he once did an elephant on its back for a shopping center), and he particularly liked penguins. Three identical sets of these penguins were made and are in private collections in this area.

For admiring the bronze birds and their surroundings, there are three mahogany benches given to the Plaza customers by the Plaza Executive Business Women’s Club. Also look closely at the tile that pictures a pyramid of penguins, with a nice touch of humor, Miller Nichols had the initials of members of the Nichols Co. board of directors put onto the penguins with the premier penguin perched on the pile marked, of course, M.N.


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Arthur Kraft 1965 Kansas Citian Magazine Article “Home Savings Association Exhibition”

Kansas Citian Magazine article – September 1965

Arthur Kraft Art At Home Savings

Paintings, drawings and sculpture by Arthur Kraft, Kansas City artist, make up a one-month showing now through September 17 open to the public in the Main Lobby of Home Savings Association, 10th and Grand. All of the works are privately owned and on special loan from the homes of admirers of this brilliant and versatile artist, some of whose art is on permanent display in the Louvre, the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence and leading galleries in the United States.

Kraft is probably best known locally for his colorful, imaginative mosaic mural for the Children’s Entrance to the new Public Library at 12th and McGee, and the large hanging mural in the new Missouri Public Services Building. His sculptures of a family group is at the Walnut Street entrance of Commerce Trust. He also designed the much-admired stained glass windows of the Overland Park Christian Church.

Among the works on display at Home Savings are fine examples of Kraft’s many-faceted ability. Dominating the exhibit for sheer size and rich coloration is “Camelot,” a mural-size oil painting, and his graceful “Swan,” sculptured in heavy brass wire. Also included are a pair of original paintings on musical themes from a series Kraft made for Philharmonic programs, and a delightful sketch for the Youth Symphony. Others reflect the wide range of Kraft’s interest and talents, from a tiny “Dog” and owlets in a nest to his highly individualistic handling of a classic theme, “Leda and the Swan.”

The show is open to the public from 7:30 to 5:30 p.m. daily, Monday through Friday, on the first floor of the Home Savings Building, 10th and Grand.


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Arthur Kraft “Craftsmanship Award” Skylines Magazine – December 1960

Skylines Magazine – December 1960

“Craftsmanship Award”

Board Of Education, Kansas City, Missouri

Public Library and Administration Building
12th and Oak
Kansas City Missouri

ARCHITECT: Tanner & Associates

FOR: Installation of Mural Tile Sections At Children’s Library Entrance.

CRAFTSMAN: Walter Goosman
EMPLOYER: Slater Tile & Mantel Company

ARTIST: Arthur M. Kraft

 

The Artist’s Conception of His Mosaic Design…

“My chief approach was to create a colorful lure that would attract the light hearts of children. After due consideration it became apparent that I had to deal with all the elements in the animal world that children know. I very carefully selected the most obvious animals which would be easily recognizable in an abstract form. This gave me the freedom of mobility to design the shapes that would indicate movement from left to right, which is as you know, a habit developed in children when they learn to read English. It was also necessary to create a rythmatic pattern of verticality to echo the vertical lines in the building itself as well as the Court House building in the background, hence the use of the red and white stripe running throughout the entire mosaic. This circus tent background is relieved with three scallops to add to the movement and put the central figure of the harlequin on the horse in dead center of the design.“

“The two apertures in the tent are an invitation to the child to enter into the fanciful land of an enchanted forest where all things are possible, as they are in the imagination of all children.”

  – Arthur M. Kraft

 

Unfortunately the current condition of the Arthur Kraft mural is not good and treatment is needed. The mural is in dire need of repair due to large vertical cracks and tiles that continue to fall off the mural. Plus it is in need of a good cleaning due to years of water draining down the mural from the roof.

 

Article from the Kansas City StarApril 8, 1989

Arthur Kraft’s Mural

Right between the kangaroo’s face and the horse’s tail, the mosaic on the outside wall of the Children’s Library is cracked from sidewalk to ceiling. A little farther down the circus scene, another large crack reaches from bottom nearly to the top.

These didn’t happen yesterday. They will get worse. They need to be corrected immediately.

The lively mosaic by the late Arthur M. Kraft once was a thing of beauty. It was something that made children feel at home and gave library patrons pride. The city pointed to it as representative of Kraft’s talent as a “superb colorist.” It is art on Kansas City’s streets. Letting the small chips loosen and fall and the piece of art decay like a discarded political signboard is an insult to Kraft’s memory and to the people of Kansas City.

It’s wasteful. It is also a familiar attitude showing a lack of care about much property in the district. Tight budgets are one excuse. But they’re not always the reason.

It’s reported that a school employee recently joked that the best solution to the mosaic problem is to paint it over. Perhaps it is, if the alternative is to let it crumble and fall in front of everyone.

This is also symbolic of the deferred maintenance the Kansas City School District has practiced on buildings it owns. In recent years, property has been treated like old clunker cars: Nothing is done as long as it runs, no matter how poorly.

The mosaic isn’t the only major item that needs upkeep. The floor in the old Missouri Valley Room is so warped the boards are popping up like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that don’t fit. Apparently a roof leak lets water run under the room or condense so that the lovely hardwood floor is systematically coming apart.

Moreover, the large room, which could be a superb public meeting area, is empty and unused.

It is wrong to let the building continue to run down. Maybe if the district spends a little now, it won’t have to spend a lot in a few years.


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Arthur Kraft 1954 “This Week Magazine” Article Announcing New Detroit Northland Shopping Center Super-Sculptures

The Milwaukee Journal article by Emily Genauer – September 5, 1954

Super-Sculpture – A Detroit shopping center sets a surprising art style.

Twenty-five years ago a U.S. Customs official provoked a furor by ruling that modernist Constantin Brancusi’s “Bird In Space,” a piece of bronze vaguely resembling a five-foot-long cigar, was not art and so had to pay a tariff.

Since that famous ruling (subsequently reversed), what has happened to popular art taste in America constitutes a revolution. A good illustration of the surprising sophistication the U.S. public has developed is shown on this page. The huge Northland Shopping Center, outside Detroit, designed to serve 15 million people a year with the latest in marketing conveniences, might seem the last place in the world for modernist sculpture. But 13 examples of this most rarefied art form, mostly the bristling, praying-mantis barbed –wire type, have been strewn through the 161 acres of shops, gardens and plazas.

A 12-inch replica of a 24-foot-tall work has become a best selling souvenir item. A restaurant uses photographs of the sculpture on its menus. Shoppers identify various areas of the center with its art. “Meet me at the Peacock Terrace,” they say. (The peacock, by Arthur Kraft, is a network of bronze rods welded together with an acetylene torch.)

Peacock sculpture by Arthur Kraft
Peacock Terrace, Northland Shopping Center 1950's

The art was the idea of architect Victor Gruen. He says the public’s warm response is due to the fact that the sculpture injects “an emotion element” into the gigantic $20,000.000 project. The one condition Gruen laid on the six artists, chiefly of the Midwest, commissioned to execute models for the project, was that their work be light and airy. He needed pieces, he told them, that would be modern, “but fun to look at.”

His orders have been followed to the letter. Not even Gruen could have foreseen the trouble mothers would have dragging children off a big stone bear by Marshall Fredericks (see cover). Chances are even that the crusty customs official of 1929 would enjoy this art.

“The Cat that Swallowed the Canary” by Arthur Kraft and Gwen Lux
This sculpture is now part of the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum collection since 1988.


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Arthur Kraft – Patient Art Postcard From The Glore Psychiatric Museum

Postcard from The Glore Psychiatric Museum
featuring the artwork of Arthur Kraft, a former patient.

The postcard is available online from the St Joseph Museum Online Store.

Glore Psychiatric Museum, 3406 Frederick Ave., St. Joseph, Missouri

www.stjosephmuseum.org

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Upcoming Exhibition Includes Arthur Kraft Watercolor “Colorado on Paper: Watercolors, Prints, and Drawings from the Moffett Collection”

Upcoming exhibition at
The Albrecht-Kemper Museum
2818 Frederick Avenue
Saint Joseph, Missouri 64506

For over two decades Jim and Virginia Moffett have been collecting the art of Colorado. The Kansas City residents have always had a passion for art, but it was when they purchased a Birger Sandzen oil painting of the Rocky Mountains that they realized they were going to need more pieces for this Colorado collection they had started. Artists in Colorado did most of their visual experiences on paper as they attempted to capture the peaks, valley and gorgeous scenery that this state has to offer. Drawing made on site in sketchbooks, as well as portable watercolors may have been used to capture composition ideas for later paintings and editioned prints. The exhibition consists of ninety works on paper by forty-five different artists, including Xavier Barile, Mary Chenoweth, Lloyd Foltz, Arthur Kraft, Ila McAfee, and George Vander Sluis, to name a few.

Opening Reception open to the public at no charge will be held Friday, April 13th, 2012 from 4-7 pm. The exhibition runs through June 3, 2012.

From the Albrecht-Kemper Museum exhibition
Colorado on Paper: Watercolors, Prints, and Drawings from the Moffett Collection
Rocks - Garden of the Gods by Arthur Kraft, watercolor on paper.
From the collection of Jim and Virginia Moffett of Kansas City, Missouri.

albrecht-kemper.org

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‘He Did Beautiful Things’ Arthur Kraft’s Diverse Art Outshines His Flawed Life

Kansas City Star article by Brian McTavish – November 20, 2002

Arthur Kraft gave everything — maybe too much — to his art. Yet he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The Kansas City artist, who died destitute at age 55 in 1977, was an idealist devoted to telling truth and sharing beauty in his paintings, drawings, sculpture and writing. He acquired a national reputation, but according to those who knew him he also was a droll charmer who drank too much and never knew how to handle money.

He may not be a familiar name today, but his standing has never been stronger among those who collected his art. Sixty examples of his diverse work have been loaned by 30 area Kraft collectors to form the retrospective exhibit “Art and Words of Arthur Kraft” at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in St. Joseph.

For decades Kraft’s art has dotted the cityscape of his hometown — from the playful “Penguin Court” figures on the Country Club Plaza, to the imaginative mosaic of animals adorning the McGee side of the Kansas City Public Library, to “The Family,” the long-limbed sculpture/fountain celebrating father, mother and child at the Executive Plaza Office Building, 720 Main.

“He’s part of Kansas City, and people are still enjoying his art,” said Betty Brand, a former Kraft patron who took the first steps toward organizing the new exhibit. “I want him to be remembered.”

Arthur Kraft as a young man.

Brand said she hoped the exhibit could be brought to Kansas City.

“We were good friends, and I tried to help him,” she said. “Everybody wanted to help him. He turned into an alcoholic, and he never had money to pay his rent. We passed him from one friend to the other, trying to keep him painting, thinking that if he would stay sober he would be fine. But he did beautiful, beautiful things.”

Born into local high society, Kraft showed early promise in the fine arts. He began painting with watercolors at age 5. At the Plaza Art Fair he sold decorated matchboxes and oil portraits that were so accomplished that officials questioned whether their 13-year-old creator had made them.

After military service in World War II, Kraft earned honors outside of Kansas City. They included the Audubon Artist Society national painting award for his tempera picture “New York as Seen by a Casual Observer Through My Great Aunt Jennifer’s Ouija Board,” and the Alice Kimball English Fellowship, given every 20 years to the most outstanding student at Yale University, which Kraft used to study painting in France and Italy.

In 1954 Kraft was named by the Junior Chamber of Commerce as one of the Ten Most Outstanding Young Men in America, along with such contemporaries as Robert Kennedy and Chuck Yeager. And for good reason: His illustrations had appeared on the covers of Fortune, Time and other national magazines. His 10-ton sculpture of a laughing elephant graced a Detroit shopping center. And his surrealistic paintings had been favorably received in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris and Rome. But Kraft was more than a prolific artist. He befriended art lovers, whom he cultivated with a beguiling charisma.

“When we met him he came up to my husband and said, ‘Will you pay my telephone bill?'” Brand recalled. “And my husband said, ‘Yes.’ Well, my husband didn’t know he called Rome and all over the world. It was a $300 telephone bill. That was a lot in those days.”

Portrait painter De Saix Gernes, who attended kindergarten with Kraft and remained close to him throughout his life, remembers her whimsical pal as “a great con man.” “We all loved him,” Gernes said. “I would not call Arthur a genius, but he was unusual. He was a poet always. Very sociable. Charming. Witty. Fun. He entertained us.”

But behind the quick banter and ready smile was a man who followed his own muse. After living in New York in the late 1940s, Kraft returned to Kansas City. Why? His own words offer an answer: “One is likely to be more slowly devoured by commercialism here than in New York City,” he once said.

Brand tells the story of Kraft working for RCA Records in New York, until his bosses tried to dictate the look of the title character on an “Aida” album cover. “They wanted her to be chocolate,” Brand said. “And he wanted to make her black, and they wouldn’t let him. So he quit.”

In Kansas City, Kraft felt empowered, said Reed Anderson, curator of the Kraft exhibit. “He felt that here he didn’t have to give people what they wanted,” Anderson said. “He could give them what he wanted, what was important to him. Money wasn’t important to him. All he wanted to do was create.”

And his creative approach changed a lot. After a short-lived realist period in the 1940s, Kraft went on to embrace surrealism, then cubism, abstract expressionism, complete expressionism and, by the early 1970s, a return to figurative work.

Arthur Kraft's painting "The Princess"

“Most artists hit upon something that sells, and then they start doing the same thing over and over again,” Anderson said. “Arthur Kraft was not that way. If he hit upon something successful, it was, ‘OK, fine, but I’m going to do something different.’ “But he never really gave up surrealism, the way I look at it. It was always part of Arthur. But it was hidden sometimes by another technique or painting style.”

Although he didn’t lack for commissions throughout the 1960s, his alcohol addiction — and related hospital stays — got in the way of his art.

“It caused him to work in fits and starts,” Anderson said. “He had periods of extreme inactivity and bursts of creativity when he cleaned himself up.”

Russell O’Meara was a college student in the early 1970s. He met Kraft then while they lived in the same midtown apartment building. He came to know the artist’s boozy side, which could be disturbing or inspiring.

“He was just raw — ‘This is me,'” O’Meara remembered. “There’s dog…urine on the floor, a bottle of gin and no food, and he’s in his underpants — and you were lucky if he was in his underpants when you walked in there — and beautiful art all over the walls where he would just get a canvas and start throwing paint on.”

On a good day, Kraft could be a creative cut-up who once abducted a duck at Loose Park, dyed it pink and walked it around Westport on a dog leash just to see people’s reactions.

In 1971, six years before his death from cancer, Kraft revealed a great deal about himself in Sounds of Fury. The limited-edition book described in words and drawings his five-week stay in the alcoholic ward at St. Joseph State Hospital. Kraft gave his impressions of people he met there. One of his favorites was a mental patient named Nettie, whom he sketched.

“I first encountered her on the elevator,” Kraft wrote. “She talked nervously about high fashion…. She was a lost soul — but she managed to give the appearance of a little style, with a red blanket that she clutched as if her life depended on it.” Anderson regards Sounds of Fury as an artistic document full of external observations, but with an introspective eye.

“If you read the text, he’s not at all judgmental of these people,” Anderson said. “He’s sitting there looking at them, diagnosing their illness. They all shared a certain, what he called, madness. And he made no bones about that.

“He definitely thought he was a little mad. But he didn’t see anything wrong with that. He figured everybody was to some degree.”


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Arthur Kraft – Walrus Walled In

Newspaper clipping from the Spokane Daily Chronicle – Nov 18, 1960:

Walrus Walled In
Artist Arthur Kraft of Kansas City, Mo., contemplates his Big Problem: How to get Albert, his 400-pound plaster walrus, out of his studio. Kraft says one doesn’t stop to consider the size of doors while in the throes of artistic creativity-and Albert just grew and grew as he sculptured him. But Kraft has figured out an answer-he is having a large glass window and part of an inner partition in his apartment removed so Albert can gain his “freedom.”


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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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