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Kraus, Henry

    Full Name: Kraus, Henry

    Other Names:

    • Henry Kraus

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1905

    Date Died: 1995

    Place Born: Knoxville, TN, USA

    Place Died: Paris, Île-de-France, France

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): labor, Medieval (European), and patronage


    Labor historian and scholar of medieval art patronage. Kraus was the son of immigrants who were active in the I. W. W. (International Workers of the World) trade union and socialists. His family moved to New York city and then Cleveland, Ohio. After a stint at the University of Chicago, he and entered Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he received his B.A. and M.A. in mathematics, the latter degree in 1928. Initially, Kraus taught high school mathematics. He married Dorothy Rogin and the couple traveled to France the same year where he worked as a medical translator, hoping too launch a writing career, much like other expatriate Americans. However, the Krauses returned to Cleveland, where he met Wyndham Mortimer (1884-1966), an organizer of the Cleveland auto workers. Kraus began writing publicity for the Cleveland Auto Council. In 1936 Kraus moved to Detroit and joined the staff of the United Auto Worker, later the United Automobile Worker, the official newspaper of the U. A. W. He helped organize auto workers into the U. A. W. in Michigan. He and his wife were among the leaders of the Flint Sit-Down Strike in the winter of 1936-1937. Kraus was dismissed from both papers in 1937 and moved to California where he assisted in organizing unions of the West Coast aircraft industry in 1939. The break-up of the action by federal government troops and his repudiation by the international union resulted in Kraus’ abandoning union organizing. During World War II he worked in the shipyards of the Consolidated Steel Corporation and in its engineering department. Ever the progressives, the Krauses lived in interracial housing projects in San Pedro, CA, and led a movement for tenet ownership. In 1947, Kraus published his study of the Flint, Michigan sit-down strike of 1936-1937, The Many and the Few. The 1950s Cold War anti-communist sentiment meant that a socialist like Kraus was blackballed from employment. Kraus and his wife returned to Paris in 1956 and opened the Paris Bureau for Physicians News Service, later called World Wide Medical News Service. In Europe he was able to pursue an interest which dated from his earlier visit, medieval art. After his retirement in 1962 he devoted himself completely to the study of European cathedrals and the publication of scholarly articles and books, assisted by his wife. They initially studied misericords, the hinged choir-stall seat of pews depicting the lives of the craftsmen of cathedrals and churches. Their work rescued many carvings at the duomo at Orvieto, Italy, from neglect. In 1967, Kraus published his first book on medieval art in general, The Living Theatre of Medieval Art, which Indiana University Press agreed to publish through the recommendation of the medievalist Harry Bober. He and Dorothy’s research on misericords appeared in 1975 as The Hidden World of Misericords. Kraus’ most significant book, Gold was the Mortar, an economic analysis of the medieval patronage structure of church building was published in 1979. In 1984 Kraus returned to labor history when he received a five-year MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. This allowed him to research labor archives at Wayne State University in Detroit for his book, Heroes of Unwritten Story. This personal history of the U. A. W. from 1934 to 1939 was published in 1994. He contracted cancer and died at age 89. His papers reside in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University and the Archives of American Art. Kraus used his social beliefs in class structure to analyze the medieval patronage system. His method was revolutionary for American art historians and The Living Theatre of Medieval Art can be considered the earliest medieval art history written in English to use social history as its matrix. Self trained and with a foreign methodology to most established art historians, he resisted the marginalization of his approach. Recalling a meeting with the French medievalist Louis Grodecki, Kraus noted the distain of the university in Strasbourg professor, “Monsieur Kraus s’intéresse à la sociologie de l’art médiéval.” Through documentary analysis, he concluded that the major cathedrals of the 12th to 15th centuries were funded not by the ecclesiastical nobility, but by the wealthy bourgeoisie.

    Selected Bibliography

    The Living Theatre of Medieval Art. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1967; and Kraus, Dorothy. The Hidden World of Misericords. New York: G. Braziller, 1975; Gold was the Mortar: the Economics of Cathedral Building. London: Routledge & Paul, 1979; and Kraus, Dorothy. The Gothic Choirstalls of Spain. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.


    Bober, Harry. “Foreward.” The Living Theatre of Medieval Art. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1967, pp. xiii-xviii; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, P. 117; [obituary:] “Henry Kraus, Labor Historian And Writer on European Art, 89.” New York Times February 1, 1995, p. 20.


    "Kraus, Henry." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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