- Associated Press - Friday, July 22, 2016

ELK FALLS, Kan. (AP) - For the past 40 years, the Frys have operated Elk Falls Pottery in Elk Falls and been instrumental in helping keep the Elk Falls annual outhouse festival a going concern. This year’s festival - held the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving - will mark its 21st year.

In 2004, the Frys began looking for property to expand their pottery shop and perhaps a place to live.

What was available was the Maude Frakes estate - 600 acres of ranch land and the ranch house, barn and several other outbuildings. It hadn’t been lived in for decades and was overgrown. Vandals through the years had stripped the property of almost everything of value.

It was, as Jane Fry says, “A fixer-upper.”

The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/29Q5kjC ) reports that the Frys knew the property had a rock garden, but it was so overgrown after decades of neglect they were unsure what all it entailed.

In 2004, they began unwrapping the mystery.

What they have uncovered, says Rosslyn Schultz, executive director of the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, may be some of the first grassroots art done in Kansas by a woman.

Called “folk art,” ”grassroots art,” ”trash art” and even “raw art,” the work done by these artists is often highly collectible. Kansas may be one of the most prolific states in grassroots art, Schultz said.

Consider the artwork of S.P. Dinsmoor, creator of the concrete “Garden of Eden” in Lucas. In 1907, Dinsmoor - a Civil War veteran - began creating what would become nearly two decades’ worth of concrete sculptures on his property.

The garden in Elk Falls, Schultz said, is one of the first documented grassroots environments in Kansas.


Maude Frakes

The Frakes ranch house was built in 1896. Marion and Maude Frakes bought the property in 1904. He died in 1930.

By then, Maude Frakes was a local philanthropist, a staunch Republican and a collector of stones and art.

During the Depression, Steve Fry said, when local farmers and ranchers were looking for extra cash, Maude Frakes would hire them to construct rock and concrete sculptures around her never-ending garden.

Maude Frakes was also a collector of elephants. Several of the sculptures in the garden are concrete elephants in varying sizes on the ground and climbing up stone trellises.

The local artisans created stone and concrete bridges, paths, pools, gazebos, lighthouses and more.

In 1936, when Kansan Alf Landon announced he was running for president, Maude Frakes hosted a reception for the Republican in her yard, Steve Fry said.

By then, it was estimated she had a collection of between 1,500 and 1,800 glass, ceramic and stone elephants. She lined many of them up as centerpieces for the reception tables.

Her Victorian house had stone porches that overlooked the garden.

“She collected rocks from all over, and the different farmers would build things with rocks and concrete,” Fry said.

When Maude Frakes died in 1954, the house was closed.

As the years went by, volunteer trees and ivy began to overtake the rock sculptures and pathways.


Potters in Elk Falls

Steve Fry grew up in Great Bend. His family moved to Hesston when he was in high school, and that’s where he met Jane.

The two attended Hesston College together, where they learned to be potters, studying under art professor Paul Friesen.

In 1974, the couple married and moved to Lumpkin, Ga., where they apprenticed as potters in Westville, a pre-Civil War living history village. Two years later, they moved back to Kansas. They saw an advertisement for artists to settle in Elk Falls, about 80 miles southeast of Wichita, in Mother Earth magazine.

“We were young people wanting to strike out on our own,” Steve Fry said. “We met a woman through the magazine ad who had moved here from California. She was trying to attract young people to repopulate the town and billed it as a great place to farm, raise vegetables and animals.”

The population of Elk Falls has stayed around 100 residents through the decades.

“We didn’t know at the time that Elk County shares the distinction of having one of the poorest counties in Kansas,” Steve Fry said. “So land prices at the time were affordable. Young artists could get a start without having to go into a lot of debt.”

The going price of houses then was $3,000 to $5,000.

Their business, Elk Falls Pottery, which used to be in the 500 block of Sixth Street in Elk Falls, soon gained a reputation. The couple were commissioned to make sesquicentennial mugs for Kansas in 2011. Their work has also been popular at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield.

Last month, the Frys moved their business and home across K-160 in Elk Falls to the old Frakes ranch.


Reclaiming the land

The pottery shop is now in what used to be a horse barn.

Within the barn is a public restroom - decorated like an outhouse.

“When we first bought the property, we didn’t intend to have our studio back here. But when we got into the barn, it was a good building with concrete floors; we fell in love with the building,” Steve Fry said. “The location is away from the highway. It’s quiet and out in the middle of nowhere.

“We spend most of our time in here.”

The house, though, was a wreck.

It had been vandalized. There was no hardware, no light fixtures. The roof was leaking.

“It was almost getting to the point it was almost too late to save,” Steve Fry said.

What inspired the couple was a visit to the stone gardens of Quigley’s Castle in Eureka Springs, Ark. - a quirky tourist attraction.

The Frakes yard and house, the Frys thought, might be of similar vintage. So they began the process of uncovering the property.

“We didn’t work full time on it, but we worked on it a lot,” Steve Fry said.

“We would do our work in the shop in the mornings, come over here in the afternoons and then finish up in the shop in the evenings.”

They uncovered fossils and rare types of rocks. One sculpture was known locally as a state monument because it had a stone for every state - except for Hawaii and Alaska, which hadn’t been admitted yet when the monument was built.

There was a concrete sunbonnet girl, a tipi and many, many elephants. One of the elephants was designed to spray water into a pool.

There were stone tables, limestone benches and gazebos.

And there is still more to uncover. Jane Fry calls it a work in progress.

“There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears here,” she said. “We enjoy sharing it with people.”

Steve Fry nods.

“We are repairing what we can. We will preserve what is left,” he said.


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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