Oil on masonite
Dimensions: 41″ x 95″
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.
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
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.”
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.
“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.”
Posting from the askart.com Discussion board:
David Farmer – 11/07/2009
Kansas City Public Library Mural
I was fortunate enough to know Arthur and, along with a small group of his friends and associates, work for him on the assembly of the mural for the Kansas City Public Library. Under his direction, we hand cut and glued the mosaic tile to sections of stiff cardboard which were later transported to the site and installed in place by local union tile setters. It was a memorable experience working for the man and even these many years later, I can still pick out the various sections that I had a hand in assembling.
Since I have an affection for owls, he gave me a colored pencil and watercolor sketch of the owl that nests in one of the trees in the mural. I will always hold fond memories of Arthur and my experiences working under his direction.