Steve and Jane Fry were living the quiet life in rural Kansas, when they decided it was time to move to a larger piece of land.
So, after much searching in the neighboring areas, the couple decided to purchase an old abandoned estate. However, when they moved onto the property, they had no idea what they’d find there…
Steve and Jane Fry, a newlywed, artistic couple were making pottery in GA in 1974. Two years after their unexpected marriage, they moved back to their home state of Kansas and settled in the rural county of Elk Falls.
Elk Falls Pottery
For the past 40 years, the Frys have operated Elk Falls Pottery in Elk Falls. College sweethearts, Steve and Jane Fry attended Hesston College together in the 70’s. It was there that they learned to be potters.
Where is Elk Falls?
Elk Falls has had a distinction as one of the very poorest counties in Kansas for some years. But this worked to the Frys advantage, as they were newly married and needed to find the cheapest land they could.
The population of the tiny, Kansas county has stayed the same for the past few decades. Never topping more than 100 full-time residents at any particular time. Still, a quiet midwestern town was just what the Frys wanted.
The Frys pottery business flourished in the small town. Their time apprenticing had afforded them a good deal of renown amongst local artist and throughout the midwest.
Finding the Right Spot
In 2004, the Frys began looking for a larger property to expand their home and pottery shop. It was then they found the Maude Frakes estate, 600 acres of land with a house, barn, and several other outbuildings.
The estate hadn’t been lived in for decades and the house itself was a wreck. It had been stripped of all valuables by vandals and there was no hardware or working light fixtures. It was, frankly, a fixer-upper.
The house was built in 1896 but was purchased by Marion and Maude Frakes in 1904. He died in 1930 and by then, Maude had become a local philanthropist, a staunch Republican, and a collector of stones and art.
During the Depression, when local farmers and ranchers were looking for extra cash, Maude Frakes would hire them to construct ornate sculptures out of stone and concrete to place around her ever-growing garden.
Part of why the Frys chose the property is its quiet, serene location, far from the highway and tucked into a woodland glade. Between the art and nature, it was love at first sight for Steve and Jane.
Folk Art, of the type found throughout the overgrown estate is considered highly collectible, even today. Much of this type of art can also be found on properties throughout rural Kansas.
The local artisans created stone and concrete bridges, paths, pools, gazebos, lighthouses and more. When Maude Frakes died in 1954, the house was closed up.
As the years passed, trees, vines, and creeping ivy started to overtake the sculptures, arches and crumbling architecture. Before long, the garden had become even more impressive than it had been when pristine.
Maude Frakes was an avid collector of elephants. There are a number of concrete sculptures shaped like elephants of varying sizes. Some even appear to be climbing up the stone trellises.
By 1936, it was estimated that Maude had a collection of between 1,500 and 1,800 glass, ceramic and stone elephants. There’s even one designed to spray water from it’s trunk into a pool.
Since they moved in, the Frys have uncovered fossils and other rare stones. They have also found a tipi, stone tables, gazebos, benches, and of course many, many elephants.
Many of the buildings had already collapsed, including the roof of the main house. Still others had to be dismantled some after the move in an effort to use all salvageable lumber towards repairing the barn and for future projects.
The Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, believes that what the Frys found in their backyard may be some of the first folk art done in Kansas by a woman.
Bed and Breakfast
Because of its innate uniqueness, a quality that the artistic Frys hold in great esteem, they decided to work to restore the property and transform it into the future home of Elk Falls Pottery and bed and breakfast.
Treasured for a Lifetime
There is still much more to uncover and the Frys are still hard at work attempting to repair and preserve the original art of Maude Frakes’ amazing garden. Ensuring that it lasts for years to come.
(Photo Credit: www.elkfallspottery.com)