This is my story of meeting Russell Kraus and owning three of his paintings. I didn’t even know who Russell was.
Some friends asked if Sheryl and I wanted to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park in Kirkwood, MO. Being a huge fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, I was thrilled to visit the park and house. When we toured the house, we learned that Russell & Ruth Kraus had the home built by FLW. We also learned that Russell was an artist himself. The complete story about his home and FLW is truly interesting. In 2001 he sold the house to a non-profit organization set up for the purpose of saving the house. The Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park, as the group is known, has turned over the title of the property to the St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation, but will continue to preserve the house and open it to the public.
But, that is not the story that I’m sharing...
Fast forward about a couple weeks… I found out that Russell (now in his late 80’s) was having a retrospect of his artwork at the Des Lee Gallery on Washington Avenue, in St. Louis, MO. We attended the show and met Russell. He was this nice older, very friendly man in a wheelchair, wearing a black artist beret. We learned of his beloved wife, Ruth, who had passed away some years earlier. Ruth and Russell could not have children, and it caused some emotional problems for Ruth throughout the years, so Russell painted several whimsical children scenes for his wife to view in their home. Many of his paintings, stained glass works, and his illustrated WWII posters were on display at the exhibit. We had a great time learning about Russell, his long time love for Ruth and viewing all his great work. None of his work has ever been sold or offered for sale. As a matter of fact, the works in his exhibit were not for sale. The estate was still determining what to do with the collection.
Fast forward a couple months…Sheryl and I attended an auction in Zell, Missouri. The auction had advertised a couple old arts & crafts Stickley chairs which are highly collectable. When we arrived at the auction, we found the chairs and we wanted to bid on them. As I was looking at other items in the auction, I noticed three paintings leaning on a flat bed trailer wheel. People were walking past them, accidently kicking them. Of course, I had to come to their rescue. But when I got closer I noticed the style of the painting right away. They were Russell Kraus paintings. And sure enough, they were signed by Mr. Kraus. I couldn’t believe it. I was told that he never sold any of his paintings and wondered how these “lost paintings” ended up at an auction in Zell Missouri. I was so excited to buy the paintings, (which I did get) we forgot about the Stickley chairs! We did learn that the lady who was having the auction had met Russell after Ruth had passed away. Evidently he was very lonely and lived with her for a brief time. It was then that he gave her some very sentimental paintings and custom jewelry that he created. The relationship did not work out and over time, well…. the paintings ended up on the dirt in an auction. No one at the auction knew who Russell was. So I bought and saved the three paintings for little money.
Fast forward about a week. We contacted the director and art curator at the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park. They looked at the paintings and authorized the works as Russell’s. They are the ones who told us the sad story of how Russell met this lady after Ruth had died and how she received many of his personal items. Sheryl and I decided that the paintings should go back to the FLW home so people could view his work. So we put them on loan to the home. They were thrilled to get the paintings, but thought I should contact Russell first, because of the unique story behind them. I called Russell at the retirement home and mentioned that I had met him at his show, and then told him about the paintings. He began to cry and told me that “God works in mysterious ways”. He thought it was a small miracle that I found and saved the paintings. When I described the paintings, he knew exactly which ones they were. He was very happy to know that we were loaning the paintings back to the FLW home. Russel Kraus passed away Sunday November 8th, 2009 and left us his legacy and treasure of wonderful art. I do believe God works in mysterious ways, and he had a hand in me finding these great paintings.
The art curator wanted two of the paintings shown below. I have the other one in my collection.
Here is a very nice documentary of Russell on YouTube.
This painting is called "Fertility". It is at the FLW house. Notice on the label that is was shown at the First Annual Missouri Art Exhibition at the City Art Museum, Nov. 30th, 1941!
This painting is called "Man Lost in Flower". It is at the FLW house. He painted this one for Ruth. It is a surrealistic style with a very tiny man on the desk with the flowers floating above him. Look closely.
Me and Sheryl at the Frank Lloyd Wright home at Ebsworth Park