Guest blogger Amy Martin is senior comedy critic for TheaterJones, North Texas Wild columnist for GreenSource DFW, and Texas Faith panelist at the Dallas Morning News. She created the acclaimed SolstiCelebration interfaith gatherings and Moonlady News alternative news service.
Some artists are larger than life. Stu Kraft was one of them – A big barreling voice that rose above his ukulele at the music jams frequently hosted at his Design District studio. His outsize personality spawned many a nickname: Moto Dog, to his motorcycle friends; Metalman, from his art associates, and Love Dog, among Sufi poetry circles.
The social media sphere buzzed all day Monday with the news that Kraft had died. It was inconceivable that he was gone. Over and again, posters relayed how they just talked to him on the phone, or visited at the studio, or had plans made with him this week. He enjoyed a weekend open house at his studio, spent a Sunday evening with his girlfriend, had a series of seizures early Monday morning, and was gone.
Old friend and clay artist Gary Hatcher of Pine Mill Pottery in East Texas related in his post:
“Stu was without a doubt a cat with nine lives. He beat back the flames of hell on many fronts, emotional, economic, and certainly physical over and over again. I saw him return over and over after the roller coaster of life drained him. He came back stronger and more resolved from heart disease, testicular cancer, diabetes. And then these damn seizures…”
The year 2014 had been a tough and transitional one for Kraft. A long time relationship fizzled, re-kindled, then ended. His diabetes flared up. Then the seizures started, sending him to the hospital. But this, he said, would not slow him down: “Just some necessary readjustments.” The epic rides on the fire-engine red Moto Guzzi were the first to go. He changed his diet and stopped drinking, becoming, dare we say it, wholesome. He worked with doctors to refine his medications. In the last few months, his energy levels returned and he was truly upbeat. Many happy walks with dogs Bella and Marley.
To further lower his stress levels, Kraft declined adjunct teaching at universities for shorter classes at Creative Arts Center, which help lift him out of the bad year.
“Stuart was generous to his core. Although we had talked for several years about his teaching at CAC, he always had a big project, commitment or a new adventure. He joined us teaching metalsmithing at last this year and told me just last week he was finally with his tribe of teaching artists and grateful students, hungry for everything he had to offer, which was so much.” ~ Diana Pollack, executive director, Creative Arts Center
“The excitement to be back in the classroom as of late at the Creative Arts Center, teaching jewelry, transferred to all of us in the last few weeks of his first class. Such a great loss of talent will linger like the legend he was and left us all with to recall our best times together. Rest in peace amongst the great artists now. I know they will stand to learn from you.” ~ Rene Lowery, metals instructor, Creative Arts Center
Kraft started with stone as Artist in Residence at the Corbero Foundation in Barcelona, Spain from 1986 to 1993. He was Sculpture Conservator for Algur Meadows Collection in Dallas during the same period, with a Certificate in the Care of Public Monuments from the Department of the Interior. He served as Professor of Rome Studies for Dallas County Community Colleges in Italy from 2006 to 2007.
But it was Kraft’s substantial and even monumental metal sculpture that forged his career. He was shown in top galleries like Shidoni in New Mexico and twice was featured in the Chicago International Art Exposition. In Dallas, the bristling energy of his “Phoenix” adorns the Stoneleigh P and the scientific angularity of “Challenger” resides at Valley Ranch. Best known of all, and so capturing of Kraft’s love of teaching, is the gigantic “Pegasus,” made with a group of students known as the Erector Set at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. (The wings were damaged and replacements were created by another artist who failed to capture the original feathery energy.)
Kraft’s smaller scale pieces were equally in demand. Hundreds of his whimsical Texas animals, especially his dancing cats and howling coyotes, reside in homes and museums. So do his sleek Deco-ish metal tables that balance angularity and curves, and his famously creative benches. Much of his work adorns the Sammons Center for the Arts, where he also acted as bartender.
“Everyone at the Sammons Center mourns the loss of our friend Stuart, who was a fixture at our Sammons Jazz concerts dispensing wine, wisdom and wit as he helped out with bar duty. His artwork adorns our front entrance and lobby in the form of benches and other functional artworks that we commissioned from him over the years. He designed and coordinated the metal work in our main entry area, so we probably have the largest collection of Stuart Kraft art anywhere. He was a longtime friend and colleague and a great artist. This is a huge loss for our arts community and for me personally.” ~ Joanna St. Angelo, Executive Director, Sammons Center for the Arts
Due to his health, last year Kraft phased out the creation of most metal sculptures, instead contracting a production house to execute his designs. But his idea of scaling down was to start up Waste Not Wood Wood Mill, which allowed him to repurpose downed trees that would otherwise become scrap. Huge slabs of painstakingly finished wood were transformed into beautiful furniture art. He simply could not think small.
A bright talent for sure, it was Kraft’s personality and passion for life that all remember along with his wild eyes, huge smile and unruly mop of curly hair. He could be cantankerous, highly opinionated and was known to bite, verbally at least. Yet he was also wily, uninhibited, highly energetic, fun loving, and creative to the core. He was a man on the move, ready to soak up every drop of life, gallivanting off to visit far-flung camps of friends all over Texas and the Southwest, most recently in his psychedelic Airstream trailer painted by Michael Broussard of Atomic Twelve Designs.
“My very best Stu Kraft memory: He was naked, sitting on a sand bar in the Colorado River just below Marble Falls, sculpting something out of the sand. I remember it was like watching a happy child, and those wonderful dark brown curls in the sun.” ~ Kim Pierce, journalist
“Stuart Kraft, you were of the most resourceful and resilient human beings I have ever known. Big, big heart. Rest in peace, Stu. Play and sing and dance, and recite poetry, and fish all day, with a pile of dog friends, and make art, cut wood, love. You lived every day, with awareness. Thank you for being in our lives.” ~ Daphne Roehr Hatcher, Pine Mill Pottery
“Must have been 1978. Stu and I were on the cliffs above Lake Travis with all the other naked hippies. Stu really wanted me to jump into the water but it was too cold. So Stu waits, then makes up some ridiculous proposition involving music and women and wants to shake hands on the deal. You can imagine what happened next.”~ Scott Em
“He was partner in many adventures, some of them strange and wondrous. We, along with many others, will miss his insight, support, encouragement, enthusiasm, meals of wild boar. And new works of art and craft. He even had both in his name!” ~ Ray-Mel Cornelius, artist
“Stuart, when the world was young, I spent many a pretty and poor, joyous evening with you and Rick. We played guitars, talked about art, laughed and tried our best to make all the ladies fall in love with us. I knew you as a great big spark of joyful life. You will be missed.” ~ Mark Negrete, videographer
Kraft passed away on a Full Moon, prompting a plethora of spontaneous group moonlit howls that evening across Texas and beyond. Friends marveled that he managed to pass on World Ukulele Day. With so many photos and videos circulating through social media, he still seems so very much alive. One posted this quote from Kraft that captured him well:
“Trust is the grease that makes my art shop work. Thank you to those who have extended this to me as we made art together. Not everything goes smoothly all the time, so we do our best to help each other thrive. Good will is a very fragile asset.” ~ Stuart Kraft
Plans for a celebration of life are pending. Condolences may be left at Krafts’ Facebook page.