Craig Kraft Opens New Studio in Anacostia

Photograph By
Phil Hutinet

Neon works.

After two years of grueling construction and regulatory delays, light sculptor Craig Kraft will officially open his new studio on Saturday, Sept. 26. Kraft’s studio will become part of a growing list of art spaces that 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 Arts Center on the 1300 block of Good Hope Road SE, Kraft’s new space boasts an exhibition area, a large workspace, an office, and second-floor living quarters for the artist. The exterior of the two-story, brick-front storefront façade – an architectural style found throughout DC’s commercial corridors – belies the gallery’s spacious and modern interior, which features high ceilings, concrete floors, and a modern wing in the rear portion.    

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 collapsing roof and dirt floor. 

While many prospective investors, including a string of potential restaurateurs, 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.

Kraft is no stranger to moving into neighborhoods that many developers and other artists might overlook. He 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 whom you ask. 

LUMEN8ANACOSTIA 2013  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. “Random Neons for Anacostia” 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. 

Kraft is known nationally and internationally for his work with neon lighting. A tenured faculty member of the Smithsonian Institution Studio Art Program, he has shown in over 125 exhibitions. Municipalities and arts organizations throughout the region have commissioned him to produce large-scale public art pieces. 

Selected public works that readers may recognize include “Falling Man” (1995) in New York City; “Lightweb” (2004) in Silver Spring, Md.; “Crossroads” (2006) in Rockville, Md.; “Fire and Water” (2007) in Concord, N.C.; “Connective Ascension” (2009) in Loveland, Colo., and most recently “Vivace” (2010) in Washington, DC, outside the Shaw 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.

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 early human cave drawings, 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, the “Ground Zero” series, and the “Random Neon” series. Kraft plans to host a series of community-centered programs in addition to continuing his artistic practice. “I will be creating both monumental and studio works as well as teaching workshops” he explains.  

Craig Kraft Studio is located at 1239 Good Hope Road SE. For more information about the artist, his work, and his new studios space please visit home.craigkraftstudio.com.

Craig Kraft outside 1239 Good Hope Road SE.
Inside Craig Kraft’s Studio.

Phil Hutinet is the publisher of East City Art, dedicated to DC’s visual arts. For more information visit www.eastcityart.com.