In 2003, Raleigh architect Frank Craig ’77 was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and given only a year to live. He responded by immersing himself in his gift for art, and with the help of successful surgery, that year turned into six-plus years of flourishing discovery.
When Craig died in 2009, he left behind scores of photographs, paintings, multi-media collages, sculptures and drawings. Now those works are on display until Feb. 6 at the Mars Gallery at Duke University Medical Center.
The exhibit, “The Art of Frank Lee Craig,” features his art, which was inspired by abandoned industrial sites. His wife, Margret Kentgens-Craig, an adjunct associate professor in NC State’s College of Design, says the works are modern and explore the connection between color, light and composition.
“There is a strong tendency in most of the work toward the abstract,” she says. “Usually the composition is being worked out by additional painting or drawing, which pulls the image together.”
Kentgens-Craig says her husband’s love of art was not apparent when they first met in Raleigh in 1980. She was a teacher in Germany and had come to the U.S. as part of an exchange program. The two started dating immediately but had a commuter relationship for five years while she was back in Germany. But it was that distance that brought out Craig’s creativity.
“I started to learn about his artistic side when he sent me his first letters, which were his artwork,” she says. “He did these small collages. He sent me two or three multi-media pieces. I took them to a gallery in Germany, and they asked if they could buy it.”
Craig’s endeavors didn’t stop at art. He also spent his last years pursuing his music. When he was a student at NC State, he had bought a Martin guitar and would retreat to his room for entire weekends to practice. The practice paid off and he formed a band, Spot, which played around Raleigh at Berkeley’s and Kings.
In 2008, he started recording songs for a CD. The project was completed posthumously. In December 2011, his album, The Distance Is So Near, was released. (Click to see a story WRAL did on the release.) The album is available at Quail Ridge Books & Music and Schoolkids Records.
Art and music were centerpieces of Craig’s life. His wife remembers the affinity he felt for music, especially to the blues and classic rock he had been exposed to growing up in the South. “We played Trivial Pursuit. He would always go to ‘Music,’ and it was the end of my game,” she says. “You have questions that trip you up, and I couldn’t trip him.”