A St. Louis native, Russell William Morland Kraus was born in 1918 to German immigrants. As a young man, he studied fine arts at Washington University (1936-1940) and served as Carnegie Resident Artist at Hendrix College in Arkansas, where he taught painting, design, and drawing (1941-42). Upon returning to St. Louis, Russell held a series of U. S. government positions, including supervisor of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) art project. While at the WPA, he met his future wife, Ruth Evelyn Goetz, an attorney and Washington University graduate. The couple married in 1949.
The previous year, Russell had read an article in House Beautiful magazine about an affordable home Frank Lloyd Wright had designed for a copy editor who worked for the Washington (DC) Evening Star. Encouraged by the modest budget the home required, Russell wrote to Wright, asking him to design a house for him. Five days later Wright responded, “You should have the nice little house. Condense your needs . . . and we will make you a plan.”
Building their Wright-designed home became a joint effort and shared passion for Ruth and Russell. In 1951 they hired Lee Patterson, a young St. Louisan with building experience, to lead the construction project. They helped to oversee the construction work and procure supplies, no small task given the complexity of the design. The Krauses moved into the house in January 1956, although completion of the interior and Wright-designed furniture took several more years.
During their years in the house, Russell worked as a freelance commercial artist and designer, using the home’s specially designed studio as his office and workplace. He was best known for his stained glass and mosaic designs, but he also created textiles, jewelry, sculptures, and oil paintings. Russell’s glass and mosaic installations are in places of worship, private residences, and commercial properties across the United States.
Ruth and Russell enjoyed living together in their “little gem” until Ruth’s death in 1992. Russell remained in the house until 2001, when he sold the house and grounds, along with the original Wright-designed furniture, to a non-profit organization, The Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park, which was dedicated to restoring and preserving the house. Russell passed away in 2009.