After two years of grueling construction and regulatory delays, light sculptor Craig Kraft will officially open his new studio on Saturday, September 26, 2015. Kraft’s studio will become part of a growing list of art spaces which have opened in historic Anacostia since 2013. The list includes the Anacostia Playhouse which relocated from H Street NE and the Anacostia Arts Center which transformed the former ARCH Development Corporation training center into a series of galleries, boutiques and rehearsal spaces.
Wedged between Honfleur Gallery and the Anacostia Art Center on the 1300 block of Good Hope Road SE, Kraft’s new space boasts an exhibition area, a large workspace, an office and private living quarters for the artist on the second floor. The exterior of the two-story brick-front storefront façade—an architectural style found ubiquitously throughout DC’s commercial corridors—belies the spacious and modern interior of Kraft’s gallery. The interior features high ceilings, concrete floors and a modern wing in the rear portion of the structure.
Kraft purchased the space in late 2013 and had hoped to open the studio to the public in the summer of 2014. However, a series of permitting and construction snags delayed the project until this fall. Before Kraft transformed the space, the building at 1239 Good Hope Road SE sat vacant for years and constituted what realtors and developers would consider a “total shell” complete with a collapsing roof and dirt floor.
While many prospective investors in 2012-2013, including a string of potential restauranteurs, found the property’s drawbacks insurmountable, Kraft saw the potential of a blank canvas and an opportunity to create something new. “I bought this abandoned building and started from a pile of loose bricks from which I have created a modern sculpture studio and dynamic living space,” Kraft says.
However, Kraft is no stranger to moving into neighborhoods that many developers and businesses might overlook. Kraft established his original DC studio, which he purchased in 1992, in an old firehouse in Shaw. Kraft recalls a series of harrowing experiences in the neighborhood during the 1990s when the city’s crime waved had reached its peak. Now Shaw, like many neighborhoods in northwest Washington, has undergone transformative redevelopment and gentrification, leaving the neighborhood for better or for worse, depending on who you ask.
LUMEN8ANACOSTIA 2013 first introduced Kraft to what he calls “Anacostia’s neighborhood renaissance.” During the 2013 neighborhood arts festival run by ARCH Development Corporation, ARCH selected Kraft to create a large temporary public art piece at the entrance of the neighborhood to greet festival goers. Titled Random Neons for Anacostia, the neon pieces enlivened the former theater at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road greeting all those who crossed the 11th Street Bridge into the historic east-of-the-river community.
The overall experience convinced Kraft to take the plunge and move east-of-the-river and re-root himself in historic Anacostia. “I love the energy of the area,” Kraft says, “it’s a neighborhood in transition and there is an eager anticipation for arts development in Anacostia.” Kraft also sees Anacostia as a neighborhood endowed with a well-established artist community and a group of well-connected neighbors.
Artistically, Kraft is known nationally and internationally for his work with Neon lighting. He is also a tenured faculty member of the Smithsonian Institution Studio Art Program. In addition to having shown in over 125 exhibitions, municipalities and arts organizations throughout the region have commissioned Kraft to produce large-scale public art pieces.
Selected public works which readers may recognize include Falling Man (1995) in New York, NY; Lightweb (2004) in Silver Spring, MD; Crossroads (2006) in Rockville, MD; Fire and Water (2007), Concord, NC; Connective Ascension (2009) in Loveland, CO and most recently Vivace (2010) in Washington, DC outside the Shaw DC Public Library. Untitled, which once rested on the façade of the Arlington Arts Center (AAC), has found a permanent home atop the Anacostia Arts Center—the other AAC located across the east branch of the Potomac—right next door to Kraft’s studio.
So what does Craig Kraft have in store for his new home in Anacostia? Back from a trip to France and Spain where he privately toured several cave drawings of early man, Kraft has set out to create a new series of work inspired by what he calls “man’s universal urge to mark.” His gallery space will also feature work from the Unintentional Drawing series, Ground Zero series and the Random Neon series. In addition, Kraft plans to host a series of community centered programming in addition to continuing his artistic practice. “I will be creating both monumental and studio works as well as teaching workshops” explains Kraft.
Craig Kraft Studio is located at 1239 Good Hope Road, SE. For more information about the artist, his work and his new studios space visit home.craigkraftstudio.com