Tag Archives: Country Club Plaza

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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1971 Oil Painting on Masonite by Kansas City Artist Arthur Kraft

Title: “Untitled”
Date: 1971
Oil on masonite
Dimensions: 36″ x 28″

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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 1979 Country Club Plaza “Court of the Penguins” Fountain

One of Arthur Kraft’s best known works in the Kansas City area is the “Court of the Penguins” Fountain at 525 Nichols Road on the Country Club Plaza.

The bronze penguin sculptures were cast posthumously in 1979 and dedicated on October 10, 1979.

The sculpture includes two free-standing pedestal fountains each approximately five feet tall on either side of the penguin grouping. There are three bronze penguins each approximately five feet tall, in varying positions of outstretched wings, on the east, west and south of a Spanish ‘clover-leaf’ area of paved brick.

The basins of each fountain are quatrefoil in shape and constructed of red stone. Each fountain has two basins, an upper and lower, which flow into one another. Three griffins, placed back-to-back, support the lower, larger basin. Figures of dolphins are featured between the griffins.

This sculpture is very similar to Arthur Kraft’s other penguin sculpture that he originally created in 1960 for the Glendale Shopping Center in Indianapolis, Indiana and is still on display at the Glendale Town Center Library entrance.

Arthur Kraft's Wynkin, Blynkin and Nod sculpture in Indianapolis, Indiana

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