Vintage Parkite has art and music in his soul
February 23, 2008
Scene: Anywhere Park City, USA — the early 1990s. It’s 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning. A motley band of Parkites, chuckling softly, skulks through the shadows and underbrush on the outskirts of town. They’re carrying a misshapen lump of — something. They strike quickly, seating the shrouded artifact firmly before scattering into the darkness. At sunrise, a surprised jogger stops to gawk at the new addition along the rail trail. It’s a work of art; the Guerilla Artist has struck again.
It was a scene bound to repeat itself many times through the ’90s. Although warned to cease and desist by the local authorities, the Guerilla Artist attacked without mercy and was never caught. His identity remains unknown to this day – sort of. It’s no urban myth – it’s history. Indeed, many of the quixotic works still stand at improbable locations throughout the city.
Bill Kranstover believes there’s an artist in every person he meets. During his 35 years living in Park City, he’s encouraged hundreds of local artists and seen them flower into every color and form imaginable. Kranstover, or "Kranny" as he’s know to his friends, is himself an accomplished artist and musician and remains firmly rooted in the rich, creative soil of the city.
He moved here in 1972, after a two-year teaching stint in Australia which kept him out of the Vietnam War. He’d decided he’d rather teach than fight.
"A couple of friends from Wisconsin had moved out here and said the place was cool so I came straight from Sidney and I didn’t pass go," he chuckles. Kranstover chuckles a lot.
Music resides in the soul of this easy-going mid-western man, who grew up in Milwaukee Wisconsin. The decision to pursue music came in his school years at West Bend High, "after I’d played football a couple of seasons and broke some bones," he says. "Art seemed like a gentler pursuit."
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"I wasn’t formally trained, I just liked to sing along with the radio and 45s [records]. A local group called The ‘Milwaukee Showmen’ had lost their singer and held auditions to replace him. I tried out and they gave me the job on the spot," says Kranstover. He learned to play to harmonica later to fill in.
Through high school he toured and played with the "Milwaukee Showmen" and, later, with "John Paul and the Liberators."
"The Liberators actually cut a couple of 45s," says Kranstover.
The art came along with the music.
"A lot of the guys I hung out with were into art. I got into it and studied all the disciplines through high school and college," says Kranstover.
After graduating from high school, Kranstover attended the University of Wisconsin. He financed his double major in Fine Arts and English by singing in several area rock-and-roll bands. He made money on tour and in the studio as a back-up singer for other groups. Ultimately, he studied and sang his way to a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969.
After returning from Australia, Kranstover put his music and art on the back burner, rolled up his sleeves and went to work. Park City was his oyster in the early 1970s. A shameless entrepreneur, his first business venture in town was a pinball arcade on Main Street called the Golden Nugget.
"We had mostly antique pinball machines and it was a lot of work," recalls Kranstover. "I paid for just about everything back then with rolls of quarters."
He got his Utah real estate license in 1974, at a time when it was more a right of passage here than a license to do anything. There was money to be made. He had a knack for the business, gathered a nest egg and had his own brokerage, Commercial West Real Estate, by the mid-1980s.
Kranstover married in 1978 and the couple had two daughters, Malia and Aja.
"It’s pronounced ‘Asia,’ like the Steely Dan album," he explains. Both daughters, now grown, got the artist gene. "Those little girls have transformed into two beautiful, creative women," he beams. Malia lives and exhibits in Seattle. Aja nurtures prize-winning orchids and bonsai trees and is also an artist in Lincoln City, Ore.
When his marriage ended in 1992, Kranstover immersed himself in his long-neglected, beloved art and music. He began sitting in with local groups, singing the blues and playing his harmonica. He honed his craft as an metal sculptor and began painting again.
Kranstover, who now has art studios in Park City and Salt Lake, took center stage in 2002, when he was commissioned by General Motors to create the Olympic Torch that now towers over the Kimball Art Center. "Malia did the drawings and then turned the whole thing over to me to put together. I did it in Salt Lake and trucked the thing up. It was a monumental project," he recalls.
Kranstover has things pretty much the was he wants them these days.
"I’m working on real estate projects and doing my art both pretty much full time. And I still sit in once in a while with local bands, whether they want me to or not." As one of the many co-founders of "Who’s Art," a long-standing showcase for local artists, he continues to encourage and foster emerging musicians and artists in the Park City area.
Still, as he slides comfortably toward his fourth decade in town, he’s occasionally plagued by lingering guilt over his past life of crime. A decade removed from the scene of the crimes, and beyond the reach of the statute of limitations, Kranstover admits here for the first time that he was, indeed, the infamous "Guerilla Artist."
He explains, "The whole thing got started in the early 90s when the city’s approval process to get art accepted was very stringent. So I used to go out at night with friends and set up my pieces. That went on for about six years until my cover was pretty much blown," he says. He confesses he often fantasized about how interesting it would be to be thrown in jail for putting up sculptures around town. Then he chuckles.
Has Kranstover renounced his "Guerilla Artist" persona for good? That remains to be seen. It is intriguing to note that untitled, unsigned metal sculptures still seem to show up around town every spring.
Single, two grown daughters
Favorite Foods: "I like just about everything served in our great Park City restaurants."
Favorite Music: Muddy Waters, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell . "I like all music as long as it’s sincere."
Favorite Authors: I’m getting back to the classics. I’m reading Steinbeck’s "Tortilla Flats" and just re-read Hemingway’s "For Whom The Bell Tolls."
Favorite Visual Artists: Jasper Jones, Paul Klee, Robert Rauschenberg
Pets: "I don’t have any pets, except maybe for Randy Barton." [Barton is a local radio personality and one of several co-founders of Who’s Art, predecessor to Mountain Town Stages.]