Arthur Kraft (1922-1977) was a painter, sculptor, and muralist who, as he put it, wanted to be "left alone to create." Create he did, and his work graced the covers of such magazines as Fortune, and exhibits of his art were held in London, Rome, and New York, as well as other locations. While his life, art training, and career began in Kansas City, his life and work are interwoven with St. Joseph, Missouri, history as well. With that in mind, the Glore Psychiatric Museum is featuring a temporary exhibit, Arthur Kraft: Sounds of Fury through July 16, 2020.
Anyone who has strolled along Kansas City's Country Club Plaza has likely noticed the trio of bronze penguins created by Arthur Kraft. Several area museums also have examples of Arthur Kraft's work. The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art and the Glore Psychiatric Museum have original paintings on permanent exhibit. Though not currently on display, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has a painting from 1942 titled "Paganini," while many more of his works grace the walls of private homes.
During his early years as an artist, those in the art world were convinced that Kraft was bound to be one of the great artists of the 20th century. He struggled with alcoholism, however, and in the summer of 1971, Kraft was admitted to the alcoholic ward of St. Joseph State Hospital No. 2 in St. Joseph, Missouri. It was his second stay in a mental facility, and, on this occasion, Kraft wrote about the experience, releasing a limited-edition book, the Sounds of Fury, later that same year. The book is filled with color reproductions, black-and-white sketches, and stories about his experiences and some of the people he met during his five-week stay at the hospital.
The Arthur Kraft: Sounds of Fury exhibit features a collection of his black and white drawings, a selection of his paintings, and a copy of Sounds of Fury from the collections of the Glore Psychiatric Museum.
Megan Wyeth, a professional photographer, and St. Joseph resident, is the guest curator for the exhibit. When she was seven, her parents commissioned two paintings from Kraft. She still remembers his use of vivid colors. "One was a siren on the rocks; the other depicted a boy riding a dolphin. They were both the most beautiful blue that I had ever seen and it really affected me. I had never seen the ocean and I remember at that point wanting to see it. When I saw the ocean, it really wasn't that color. Arthur's ocean was much richer," said Wyeth.
Arthur Kraft: Sounds of Fury opened at the Glore Psychiatric Museum, 3406 Frederick Avenue, on January 16. Visitors can tour the exhibit through July 16, 2020, during the regular museum hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Museum admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, (62 and over) and $5 for students. Museum members and children 6 and under are free of charge. For more information, please call 816-232-8471 or visit stjosephmuseum.org to learn about St. Joseph Museum events, exhibits, and rental facilities.
Guest Curator's Statement
Arthur Kraft was a Kansas City artist. He spent five weeks in the alcoholic ward at the St. Joseph State Hospital in 1970. During his stay, he would slip away from his area and make contact with patients. The experience affected him deeply as he realized, "these people needed help" and "to be a functioning part of the world" and "a family to love." Arthur felt a lot of people there really didn't need to be there. He encountered many frightened persons - some were withdrawn - and some living fantasies.
During his time at the hospital recovering, Arthur created a series of sketches and stories describing what he had seen and experienced in hopes of creating an awareness of this situation. He also made several large paintings from his impressions of my family farm. My father would pick him up and drive him to the farm on the weekends so that he could paint and take a break from the hospital. Arthur created a significant body of work during this time, and as a result of his stay at the hospital. Included is a limited edition book titled "The Sounds of Fury". Arthur said the hospital experience heightened his sensitivities and that he learned to be more compassionate and would always listen to persons with problems.
Arthur was a multifaceted person and artist. He really could make anything. I like describing him as multifaceted because it references his beautiful and unusual use of gemstone colors that were so much a part of his work during the years he struggled with alcoholism. Along with his painting, he made sculptures, mosaics, and stained glass.
I met Arthur when I was six years old. I was affected by him, his kindness and warmth, and very much by his art. At the time, I thought that blue belonged to him and that maybe he invented it. He made so many blues, and each was so brilliant. I remember checking my (largest made) crayon box to see how many blues were in it and if they matched Arthur's. Arthur's art evokes emotions of every kind. His lines are alive. Some electric and look like barbwire. Some smooth and curved, and although they appear loose, they are intentional and powerful.
Arthur was spiritual, religious, compassionate, curious, and kind. He loved and was loved. He had a wonderful sense of humor. What he was able to accomplish and maintain throughout his suffering was truly amazing. What was the cause of Arthurs's mental imbalances and alcoholism? Was it trauma from time spent serving in WW2? Was it haven been severely beaten one night in Kansas City for his wallet? Was it the poor health he struggled with over many years? Many people have their ideas about this tragedy that took a man who was listed as one of America's top 10 men and artists who were successfully making and selling art in Europe and the United States. There were many struggles for Arthur, but his work remained his anchor, always.
December 2, 2019
(Source: Images and content provided by St. Joseph Museums, Inc. Copyright restrictions on the art images may apply.)