ILLINOIS HISTORICAL ART PROJECT
No. 38 Carl R. Krafft
Carl R. Krafft studied in his early days for the ministry. His father was a preacher and so are two of his brothers. They lived in the parsonage next door to his father’s church, Salem’s Evangelical, at 25th Street and Wentworth Avenue, a neighborhood later to be invaded by the “Heathen Chinese” and other foreigners. His whole boyhood was spent in a thorough religious environment, so what was more natural than that he should carry on with his father and his brothers.
So he went to school. But the books of sermons and of Biblical history he was set studying had blank leaves in the front and the back and instead of absorbing the good words of the good and learned men, Carl Krafft drew pictures in his books. His professors were not scandalized after the approved fashion of elders who are always putting stumbling blocks in the way of young artists. Instead they encouraged him to develop his art talents along with his oratorical.
It was not long, however, before Krafft came to the ever-new conclusion (new for the person involved) that it is impossible to serve two masters, so he gave up the idea of a pulpit and went to work as an apprentice in the studio of a commercial art firm.
But, while he didn’t become a practicing preacher, Krafft’s paintings, in the maturity of his talent, are not at variance with his early training. Most of the commentators have felt his attitude towards nature to be “religious” – not the volcanic religion of Van Gogh, whose soul was on fire with flames that match those of hell itself (presuming that Dante, Milton and Blake wrote whereof they knew) – but the quiet, sentimental reverence of a workaday preacher in average American surroundings.
Krafft’s devotions in the “cathedral of nature” led him, early in his painting career, into the Ozarks. Here he was a pioneer and he is credited with the founding in 1913, of “the school of Ozark painters.”
He had a studio on the bank of the Gasconade River, with a tall mountain at his back. Here he painted, not only in summer, when artists go on vacation jaunts “back to nature,” but even in the dead of winter. His snow sleds of the mountaineers, who hauled their wood way through the ravines, and his beauty spots along the ice-bound river were once to be seen in all the Chicago shows and greatly admired.
It was “Charms of the Ozarks” that marked a turning point in his career. This painting was awarded prize of $500 at the Art Institute in 1915 and was purchased for the Municipal Art Gallery of Chicago, Krafft felt justified on the strength of this honor, in giving up his commercial art work and devoting all his time to the fine arts.
His studio in the Ozarks yielded him another prize winner, also of $500, five years later, this time accompanied by a Logan medal from the Art Institute, “Banks of the Gasconade.” the picture is called and it is now in the collection of L.L. Valentine of Chicago – one of the first pictures Mr. Valentine bought.
Krafft’s luck as a prize winner seems to follow some law that has to do with multiples of five. For, in 1925, he appears again as recipient of an award, again for $500, plus another Logan medal. But by this time he had left the Ozarks and was painting along the Mississippi. “Mississippi Nocturne” his picture that year was called. Another of his river scenes called just “Mississippi,” represented Mr. Krafft in A Century of Progress show at the Art Institute in 1934. This painting belonged to Mr. Ryerson and is in the legacy he left to the institute.
Krafft, by this time, was becoming quite nonchalant in the matter of winning prizes, for, in addition to these, there had been a number of minor awards. (In this same show of 1925 at the institute, for example, he was given an additional ribbon, with the Harry A. Frank prize for a picture called “Summertime.”)
But he was soon to be jolted out of his nonchalance. He sent a picture to New York in this same year of 1925 for the show of the Allied Artists of America. A few days after the opening, he went to New York for a visit and for a glimpse of the exhibition. Walking into the gallery in the Fine Arts Society building, he was dumfounded to find a ribbon fluttering from his “Hickory Creek.” Knowing his intended to pay them a visit, the sponsors of the show failed to notify him he had been awarded the gold medal of honor.
A recital of prize-winnings in the life of an artist is often times a poor way to get out his career. But in other instances the prizes are of high significance and this is true in Carl Krafft’s case. For his awards have been for work that has been the highest expression of his emotions. You will find the best of Krafft in the pictures that the juries have deemed outstanding in the various shows where he has taken his medals.
Krafft, of an old German family, is of American birth, has been in Chicago since he was 5 years old, has had his whole art training here and is decidedly “a local boy who has made good.”
He was born in Reading, O., in 1884. His father, as has been set out, was an Evangelical minister, subject to being assigned his “charges” by the church conference. From Reading, he was sent to Lawrenceburg, Ind., and then to Chicago, where the Wentworth church became a sort of permanent assignment.
This elder Krafft was born in Bavaria, in the neighborhood of Nuremburg. His father was a preacher. The family was an old-established one. An ancestor in the sixteenth century was Adam Krafft, who won fame as a sculptor.
Carl’s mother was a daughter of a Missouri pioneer, who went to that territory in 1860, just before the outbreak of the civil war. It was this ancestral strain that led Carl Krafft shortly before the world war, to paint in the Ozarks. A painter companion of his there was Rudolph Ingerle. Fellow students of his in the school of the Art Institute in Chicago, with whom he has been associated on sketching outings, were the late Anthony Angarola, E. Martin Hennings and Eugene F. Savage. Krafft rates Savage among the artists from who he has “received inspiration” – “Botticelli, Orpen, my good friend Eugene F. Savage and Daniel Garber.”
Carl, as a boy, didn’t take to the idea of the ministry without a struggle. He wanted to be an acrobat and he and his four brothers fitted up the back yard of the parsonage as a circus ground and entertained the kids of the neighborhood.
But, reluctantly, he gave up the idea of being “a daring young man on a flying trapeze” and entered business college. After working in the office of a paint factory, applying his new knowledge, he got another “office job” with a stationery store on Wabash Avenue, but found that one of his clerical duties was to push a cart through the loop delivering orders. He stood it for a few weeks, and then went to work for a wholesale dry goods store, which, however, had imbibed the idea that a first-rate business college graduate should push a cart. But this time the cart was kept indoors, hauling goods from stock rooms to elevator shafts.
“At this time,” Mr. Krafft tells me, “I answered an ad in The Chicago Daily News for a bright young man with fine penmanship to work in a bird store. I got the job, but soon discovered that the work consisted of 90 percent cleaning out the bird cages, rabbit cages, ferret cages, and 10 percent went for displaying my penmanship. One day when the boss told me to clean out the monkey cage window I refused and so was fired.
It was thereupon he decided his father, his grandfather and his brothers had been wise to choose ministry as a profession, so he entered upon a preparatory course.
Meanwhile, he had become something of a musician too. And when he discovered the ministry was not for him, after all, his skill at playing the organ made him hesitate between music and art as a career. He chose art, entering the commercial field. But for the next several years, during which he worked for the Benner-Wells Company, Barnes-Crosby, Jurgen Brothers, Taylor-Critchfield Advertising Agency, the Northern Engraving Company, and others, he played the organ Sundays in his father’s church.
Nights he attended classes at the Art Institute, and he got into “the art atmosphere” by joining the Palette and Chisel Club. In 1908 he married and established his own studio. He carried on several commercial accounts. His specialty was the making of designs for labels. He associated himself in a joint studio in the Harvester building with August Petrtyl and Rudolph Ingerle, and it was thus that Ingerle and he became painting companions in the Ozarks, which Ingerle was to desert later for the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.
Krafft began to consider himself an “ethical painter” with the acceptance of a painting of his in an Art Institute show in 1912. It was three years later that he won his first prize and felt himself strong enough to abandon his labels.
With the winning of prizes he also found his landscapes salable – he had the emotional touch that persuades people to hang pictures on their walls.
A nervous breakdown about three years ago rendered Krafft a partial invalid. But he has continued his work in his Oak Park studio, and only in October of this year had an exhibition of his new pictures at the Chicago Galleries Association.