Tag Archives: Nelson Gallery of Art

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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1940 Four Panel Room Divider Painted by Kansas City Artist Arthur Kraft

Title: “Untitled”
Date: 1940
Oil on masonite
Dimensions: Each panel measures 5′ x 20″


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Kansas City Artist Arthur Kraft Original Pen and Ink – Woman

Title: “Woman – OSH”
Date: Unknown
Pen and ink on paper
Dimensions: 12″ x 16″


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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.

Artwork by Arthur Kraft while art editor at The Yale Record

(Pub: March 1942 | October 1942)   (Image Copyright The Yale Record)

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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