The Sedona Legend Web Site is a copyrighted historical photo enhanced narrative presented for
educational and entertainment purposes. Some materials may be displayed in regard to the
United States Fair Use Act. This web portal is totally non-profit and generates no income nor
does it seek or has it ever accepted a single donation. It is an independent venture.
Sedona Legend was envisioned and created to provide Red Rock State Park visitors a
comprehensive historic overview for Jack and Helen Frye and their Deer-Lick and Smoke Trail
Ranches. This effort is now officially cited by R.R.S.P. as an indepth historical venue
representing Jack and Helen Frye.
Sedona Legend is encouraged by the many friends of Jack and Helen Frye. A gracious thank
you to the Frye and Varner families for invaluable support and Red Rock State Park staff and
volunteers for their enthusiasm.
Sedona Legend Helen Frye a.k.a. the Jack and Helen Frye Story
A Decade of Research and Presentation- Created By Randall D. Reynolds
Copyright © 2003 All Rights Reserved
Thank You For Visiting Sedona Legend-
The Jack And Helen Frye Story!
Sedona's Celebrity Love Story!
This is the official, not to mention only, web portal in the world
dedicated exclusively to the legacy of Jack and Helen Frye!
The Frye Legacy-
a Lifetime of Accomplishment!
By Randall Reynolds
Sedona Arts Center (1962) as shown above. Photo courtesy of Bob Bradshaw, the renowned
Sedona photographer. According to Bradshaw the photo above is quite significant as it includes
most of the original founders of the Sedona Arts Center, Inc. (Sedona Arts Barn) to include
Helen Varner Frye, seen reclining under the tree (on the far left) cloaked in shadow. It appears
Nassan Gobran, is center, in front of the barn door, and the couple to the left of him may be Bill
and Pug Leanhouts. I think Cecil Lockhart is in front of the small doorway, to the right.
Evidently the photo (well-circulated) was a grand opening type image. Click for enlargement.
In this remarkable time capsule Helen Frye is shown with some friends at a party. Location is
not known but possibly the Frye Ranch where many such gathering were held. The date is late
1940’s or early 1950’s (my gut feeling is 1948). Persons shown, (bottom) first row, (left to right)
Helen's mother Maude Varner, from West Virginia, and Roberta Targhetta, Helen’s close
friend Rosie's mother (who was visiting from Albuquerque). Second row (left to right) Helen
Frye, Helen's friend Lynne Gray, from New York City (center), and Lois Kellogg Duncan owner
Crescent Moon Ranch at Red Rock Crossing. Back row (left to right) Dorothea Tanning (and
dog), Max Ernst (center), and his son Jimmy Ernst (Jimmy's mother was Max's first wife Luise
Straus). Many people have remembered Max and Dorothea as accompanied to Frye parties and
other gatherings by their two little white dogs (thought to be Lhasa Apsos). For a long time I
was puzzled by the blond hair in front of Dorothea, now I realize she is holding up one of her
beloved dogs as she did many times in photos. Captured at night (reeds behind Helen may
indicate near Oak Creek at the Frye Ranch). Thanks to Ken Mark for help with this image!
Helen Varner Vanderbilt Frye - the Artist
Shown is Helen Frye and friend Faye
Crenshaw (said to be Sedona's 1st realtor) and
Elisa Armijo. This location can be found at the
entrance to West Sedona at 1145 West
Highway 89A, known currently, as Raven's
Nest Trading Post. For some time it was
known as the Hathaway Shirt Factory (corner
of 89A and Airport Road). It is not known
what connection Helen had with this building
perhaps she had a business interest but most
assuredly she was at least an avid supporter of
Above is seen a portrait of Elisa Armijo the
daughter of Helen's close friend Rosie Armijo
signed Helen Varner 1964. Helen was like a
god-grandmother to Elisa.
The Purchase portrait above right is a somewhat caricature-like oil and definitely captures the
essence of this musical couple quite realistically- their home and poolside off Redwing Lane in
Sedona was always filled with music, warm friends, and good times. Al worked for the Bureau of
Indian Affairs (the Hopi Nation). Pat was a Sedona socialite who loved to entertain and also
taught music. The Purchase home was the scene of many early Sedona get-togethers.
Helen's Art- a Myriad of Expression
Winged Arts Building- Sedona Arizona (1967)
Helen’s work is all but lost today. She never desired to profit from her efforts so therefore
many of her painting are just floating around in obscurity. She worked in many different
mediums but some expressions which survive today are portrait paintings she did for her
personal friends like Al and Pat Purchase as seen below. Helen Frye started out in life as an
illustrator and this is evident in her work. In part some of her illustration work was seen as
associated with her husband Cornelius Vanderbilt’s short stories of the 1930’s. These would be
glamorized illustrations of the human form. Below left is an exquisite painting done by Helen
Vanderbilt (Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr.) likely from the time frame of 1936 to 1939. Helen
Vanderbilt named all her homes and titled most of her paintings. This one she appropriately
named "In The Tall Ones" a beautiful reflection of a less traveled road through a grove of
Redwoods. On the back of the painting Helen notated that it was painted at "Jedediah Smith St.
Pk". This lovely park is located south of Crescent City California on Highway 101 and is graced
by the one last undisturbed swaths of giant trees left in the United States. The painting is signed
"HVAN" and on the back it is written "Helen Vanderbilt" with the title notated and "OIL".
The painting was purchased at an auction in San Francisco and is now held in a private collection
near New Orleans. I am proud and honored to be able to display one of Helen's earliest works.
Above "In the Tall Ones" 1935-1940. To the
right Frye friends Al and Pat Purchase (1960's).
Although some of Helen's work likely survives to this day it is supposed that many collectors
don't realize the true identity of the artist. Helen did do landscapes. One such painting survives
last seen many years ago hanging in a Kansas City rest home. The Sedona landscape painting
was a treasured possession of one of Jack Frye's most loyal secretaries the late Mrs. Meriam
Furse Filkins. "A gift" she once exclaimed proudly to a visitor "from Mrs. Jack Frye!"
It would be wonderful if some of Helen's work could be represented in a collection of Arizona
woman artists. One of the finest such national collections is represented right here in Sedona
known as Arizona Women Artists. "Creative Women of the West" spearheads this wonderful
legacy as associated with the National Museum of Women in the Arts Washington D.C. This
nobel effort is now proudly an official Arizona Legacy Project (AHAC) which, with other such
historic endeavors, will represent Arizona's Centennial in 2012. For more information please
contact Fran Elliott at Sedona Arizona. Mrs. Elliott is one of Sedona's most dedicated art
patrons. Her extensive art collection of early women artists is one of the finest in the nation.
Helen, too, was passionate about encouraging the arts, although sadly, she has been overlooked
and forgotten in regard to many of her associations. In her philanthropy work, Helen supported
and helped launch the Sedona Arts Center, Sedona Humane Society, and the Stagecoach Players
(1952), to name just a few organizations. She also, incidentally, was part of the committee to
name Red Rock Loop Road which accessed the Frye Ranch, likely at that time the largest ranch
reached by this now famous Sedona Scenic Byway.
I wanted to include the above image as it truly personifies why Sedona is an artistic mecca! How
can one look look at this photo and not be awestruck by the beauty and magnificence of Sedona.
Certainly, it explains why this region has become a magnet for all manner of artistic expression,
even motion pictures! The photo is of a poster-sized image taken in mid-1950's. The boy
drinking water is Richard Duncan who owned the horse with his father (Walter Duncan) the
resident ranch manager at Helen Frye’s Smoke Trail Ranch. Richard’s uncle was Nick Duncan
who with his wife Lois Duncan owned Crescent Moon Ranch (which was what we now know as
Red Rock Crossing). The ranch is currently called Crescent Moon Recreational Area (U.S.F.S.).
Richard’s Aunt Lois was also Helen Frye’s good friend. The framed photo hung in the Regional
Director's office of the United States Forest Service (Federal Building) downtown Albuquerque.
Rosie Armijo who has been responsible for offering so many wonderful images for this work on
the Fryes was a friend of the director. When he retired he gave her the framed vista which she
still retains today. Why was Rosie so interested in this particular image? Because she
recognized the horse and knew the boy well who spent his childhood riding the beautiful horse
on the Frye Ranch in Sedona. Below, see images of this beautiful horse and Helen at the Frye
Ranch (now Red Rock State Park) taken in the 1950's. The boys are Richard and his brother.
Late in life (about 1970) Dorothea Tanning came back to Sedona for a wedding and stopped to
see Helen at the Frye Ranch. Shown above (left to right) are Dorothea Tanning, Helen Frye,
Lynne Gray, Rosie Armijo, and Elisa Armijo. To the right is a black and white photo of an
unfinished color painting Helen was working on portraying Nassan Gobran. Her intent was to
reveal three spiritual pinnacles of his oversoul. Location is House of Apache Fires studio.
Eventually this painting was given to Helen's dear friends Pat and Al Purchase. Helen often
incorporated a spiritual element in her work. The current location of this painting is not known.
No known photos are available of Helen at
work on her art except this blurry image which
shows Helen in the late 1970's working on a
canvas at her Wings of the Wind home
outdoor patio. Helen worked in a variety of
formats to include magazine sketches, writing,
sculptures, and paintings for over 45 years.
Helen signed her work a variety of ways for
instance, Helen Varner, Helen Renvar
(Varner reversed), Helen Vanderbilt, HVAN,
and of course Helen V. Frye.
To the left is a portrait Helen painted of her
friend Rosie Armijo, one of Helen's most
devoted and life long friends (who also knew
Jack Frye well). It was meant to represent two
distinct personalities (oversoul) and the work
was based on a photo Helen took of Rosie on
the Hopi Reservation. The painting is signed
H. Renvar 1960. Renvar is an acronym for
Helen Frye @ Work
Helen was painted many times throughout the
years. The paintings (above and aside) were
commissioned by Jack in 1942, as painted by
British artist Arnold 'Monty' G. Mountfort,
who was a well-known celebrity-society artist
of Europe and Hollywood.
Mountfort and his wife Patricia 'Paddy" were close friends of the Fryes. The portrait (left) is
thought to have been painted at the Willow House (or from a photo). The smaller portrait
(right) is painted from a photo, likely taken by Jack, of Helen on a white sandy beach, perhaps
from the Frye honeymoon to Cuba or Florida (1941). The Fryes moved into the Willow House at
the Sedona Smoke Trail Ranch by fall of 1941. In the first painting Cathedral Rock is displayed
outside the heavy draped windows. After Arnold Mountfort’s death (1942) his wife Paddy
managed the Sedona ranch property for the Fryes (1945 to 1947). Paddy and Helen were close
friends and Paddy resided at the Willow House when the Fryes were not in town.
Sedona Arts Center St. Patrick's Day Floats
Maud R. Hardman and Bill Leenhouts aside.
A Reunion and a Lost Painting
St. Patrick's Day in Sedona is always a big deal. Above are two Sedona Arts Center floats from
two different years of entry. I can't place the one (left), could it be Jerome? Maud was a early
benefactor and docent of the Sedona Arts Center. Bill and Helen Frye were founders. (1960-70's)
The official founders are said to be as follows:
(but likely many others were involved too)
Nassan Abiskhairoun Gobran (president)
Mrs. Hamilton Warren (vice president)
Cecil Lockhart-Smith (secretary-treasurer)
Dr. Harry Wood
Mrs. Barbara Mettler
Mrs. Helen Varner Frye
Miss Eugenia (Gee) Wright
Mr. and Mrs. E. V. Staude
Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Duncan (Lois Kellogg)
Mrs. L. Zoya Parrish
W. W. Stevenson
George G. Babbitt (Madeline Babbitt)
Per Helen's good friend, Marie Stilley: "Nassan Gobran and Cecil J. Lockhart-Smith stood right
here in front of my fireplace (in Flagstaff) and told me that Helen had suggested they secure
the former barn (seen above) for an art center. It had been previously used for apples and
peaches." Marie went on to say emphatically "if it had not been for Helen Frye, Nassan, and
Cecil, there would have been no Sedona Arts Center!"
On April 19, 1959, just 2 months after Jack Frye's tragic death, the Sedona Red Rock News
joined Helen Frye for a very special occasion- to find the perfect location for a new Sedona art
center. On that April day, a photographer followed Helen and her guests, Nassan Gobran,
George Babbitt, Jr., his wife, Madeline Hunter Babbitt, and Nick Duncan (Crescent Moon
Ranch) on various locations near Cathedral Rock. Nick was Frye Ranch foreman Walter
Duncan's brother. The name of the art center would be 'Canyon Kiva' later to evolve into the
present Sedona Arts Center. Helen Frye attended the School of Art Institute of Chicago (one of
the most prestigious art institutes in the nation). This led her to an early career as an artist,
fashion designer, and magazine illustrator of note. By 1932, she met her soon to be second
husband Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. while sketching in Albuquerque, N.M. According newspaper
interviews with Vanderbilt, Helen illustrated some of his magazine stories from that period. The
couple was married Jan 4, 1935 at Albuquerque (location to commemorate their first meeting).
It must be noted that Helen's dear friend Dorothea Tanning also attended the School of Art
Institute of Chicago. Dorothea, along with her husband Max Ernst, became two of Sedona's
earliest artists, spending much time with Jack and Helen Frye at their Deer-Lick Ranch during
the 1940's and 1950's. Dorothea Tanning, after living in Paris for a time, currently resides in
New York City at nearly 100 years old. She last returned to Sedona in the late 1970's for a
wedding at which point she also visited Helen Frye at the Wings of the Wind home. Jack and
Helen Frye both collected a variety of exquisite art work throughout their lives. It has often
been said by guests visiting Jack and Helen through the years that their homes contained a
surprising collection of rare art and literary works.
In the first week of February 1944, Helen Frye was reported to be visiting Santa Fe N.M. where
she purchased 2 paintings from local artist Foster Jewell. The titles were “As in a Dream”
which had been on display at a local museum, and the second, “Symphony in December”
purchased at the artist’s studio at 834 El Caminito Street. The transaction was said to be the
most important of the S. F. art season. Mrs. Frye, wife of the president of T.W.A., was reported
to be from Washington D.C., but it was noted the Fryes also had a ranch in Sedona. (This was
one of the trips Jack and Helen made to Santa Fe to see their architect John Gaw Meem who
was designing their Sedona home, which in the end, became the Apache Fires house (1948).
Seen to the right at (three-feet-high) is a
driftwood sculpture entitled "The Beginning"
created by Helen Frye and Nassan Gobran.
Carved from a single piece of dead wood
(mostly by Nassan) which he and Helen found
along Oak Creek at the Frye Ranch.
Truly a stunning masterpiece, artfully carved by masterful hands, the sculpture is all natural
except for the heads. A reminder of an art legacy left behind by Helen Frye and Nassan Gobran.
An expression, I daresay, few people know exists today! Currently in the Stilley collection.
From a Dream to Realty- Sedona Arts Center
Helen's Closest Neighbor- Dr. and Mrs. John W. Stilley
Pete Stilley (above) captured richly by Helen
who showcased this young boy as full of life
and joy. (1950)
Helen painted Tommy Stilley (above)
somewhat whimsically with water background
and fishing offset by a foreground of school
work. It's obvious she painted it to reflect
what Tommy would really rather be doing!
(1957). "Helen loved to paint and photograph
Tom," according to Marie Stilley, "she felt he
was very photogenic." To the (left) we see
another portrait Helen painted of Tommy in
his early years (1951). The masterful way she
painted the child makes the image nearly
life-like as seen in person. Helen was truly a
gifted artist, unfortunately, after 50-some
years her work is rarely seen. This because
Helen did not actively market her art like so
many other early Sedona artists. Marie
related another "lost" Helen Frye work.
"Helen panted a portrait of David and myself,
which she had just finished. She called John
and asked him to stop by and see it. When he
did so, he said to her, 'that's a very nice
painting but who is it?' Helen was so annoyed
when he didn't recognize the subjects that she
decided she would not release the painting
to us. I don't know if she destroyed it or if it is still out there somewhere but I sure wish I had
it here hanging with the others." This is just one of several missing Frye art pieces.
Flagstaff and Sedona Memories
Priceless in its detail and fragility, Marie
proudly explained the history of this treasure,
an ancient Hopi Indian rug. "Helen and I
found this together high up on the Mesa at a
trading post that no longer exists," she
explained, "we would often travel to the
reservation on buying trips." Marie continued,
"we would take my GMC camper truck at
various times, camping and sight-seeing across
the Mesas. It was on one of these adventures
that Helen and I at the same time spied this
beautiful rug," said Marie, "we both loved it
immediately, but mutually, we decided Helen
should take it home." Many years later, at the
end of Helen's life, she made sure that Marie
received the treasure. "It is so much more beautiful laid out and quite large too" said Marie.
Hopi Treasure From Apache Fires House- Later Wings of the Wind
'Did You Know Helen Frye?'
Simple Phone Call Leads to a Priceless Treasure of Information-
The Flying W Ranch, Bambi, Jack & Helen Frye, & Early Sedona!
Soon after our initial conversation we motored up the canyon to Flagstaff. In a beautiful part of
town with lava rock hills crowned by juniper and Ponderosa we came across two stone pillars
which said "Stilley Ranch". Turning and continuing up a long winding drive through a thick
Ponderosa forest both of us remarked at the scene which reminded us of traveling back in time
to Arizona's western past. Choosing between several old rustic log cabins we proceeded to the
largest one enhanced by two flags fluttering on a flagpole out front. The top of the hill was
crowned with a sprawling 1940's Arizona-style ranch house. As we got out of our car we noticed
a ranch hand exiting the dwelling who turned to us and hollered, "hello, come on up!" The man
held the door for us while we entered. "Go on in," he said, "Marie will be with you in a minute."
Standing in the middle of a dated old-fashion-kitchen we slowly let our eyes grow accustomed to
the dim light while the smell of wood smoke assailed our senses. I immediately noticed an older
woman in the adjoining room poking at a stubborn fire that refused to explode to life. Finally
she raised up, turned, and said cheerfully, "come on in boys!" After warm introductions, we sat
down in a cozy room accented by a wall of glass which looked up hill to the San Francisco Peaks.
In the foreground of these forever views were vintage ranch buildings set among the pines and
green lawns. Our conversation centered around Jack and Helen Frye and as it related to our
hostess’ own rich story of life in this formerly rugged Northern Arizona Territory.
Marie and her dentist husband John came out west from Oklahoma in the mid-1940's. Her
home, "really a former lodge, built by the Hopis" she explained "started out as a dude ranch."
Yes, this Arizonan family has lived for over 50-years at what was originally the Flying "W"
Ranch, built in the 1920's, destination of many celebrities seeking solitude and the western
experience. The charming grounds, now at just 90 or so of the original 160 acres, are still
peppered with the remaining historic dude ranch buildings. "We bought this property from Dr.
Harold S. Colton who was the founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona just up the road,"
Marie explained. Colton requested the Stilleys not sub-divide or sell any of the property for at
least 20-30 years, an unwritten agreement they faithfully honored.
In this picturesque setting, from 1946, the Stilley family found their ‘Shangri La’. Originally,
just a family of 5, now with their own families. "We raised our sons here" Marie said proudly,
"one is an attorney, the other a retired oil executive, and the third an architect." We listened
intently, as Marie passionately continued her tale of re-settling out west!
"The lodge itself was a disaster," Marie continued, "I thought we would have to tear it down
and start all over. When we originally purchased the ranch it was the land we desired. Here we
were trying to pay for all this property and we were faced with the burden of possibly building a
brand new house. John called me one day from his office and said he had a new patient he
really liked who wanted to see our former lodge and who might offer us some ideas of what to
do with the building. I said, 'bring her on out, I'd love to meet her!'" This "patient" turned out
to be Mrs. Jack Frye from Sedona. Marie went on to explain, "when Helen arrived she walked
from room to room accessing the aging structure, 'Live in it,' Helen exclaimed cheerfully!"
"Oh my" said Marie, "I couldn't imagine such a thing, the building was a wreck from floor to
ceiling. This was all crowned by dingy black lacquered logs which supported a dubious roof."
Marie continued, "Later, Helen, never one to pass up a renovation, rolled up her sleeves and
jumped right in! She proceeded to paint one room which became the master bedroom suite a
pale yellow with a finishing coat of white over the logs which supported the massive roof. 'This
will highlight the room,' Helen said excitedly!" "The result was impressive," said Marie
proudly, "the paint remains to this day, as seen on the ceilings. The logs in the great room, so
black they were hideous, well, to that Helen said simply and matter-of-factly, 'strip them!' Like
such a task could easily be accomplished," exclaimed Marie! But, this is exactly what Marie did.
The final result was a warm ambiance of tawny brown accented by painted white rock walls.
For the lodge kitchen, Helen recommended they purchase cupboards from Sears and Roebuck.
“After they were mounted, Helen painted them, too. Mrs. Frye was an artist who could make
anything look stylish and sheik," Marie stated. It is interesting to note that Helen Frye fitted
out her kitchen at the House of Apache Fires in the same manner. During the war, custom
cabinet makers were difficult to obtain. And so it went, Marie's rustic old dude ranch "lodge"
soon became a comfortable home, in time, albeit, with a lot of work. Eventually, the family
settled into what was akin to a rustic resort, an experience of growing up at surely what would
now be considered one of Northern Arizona's most rare landmark properties.
"The 30-some foot deep well was originally dug by the Hopis," explained Marie, "it would be
filled with water in the spring but proved inadequate at other times." "We need a better well,"
Marie stated firmly to her husband one day. However, after checking around a bit, the Stilleys
were told, "you just don't drill into the Malapai, it simply isn't done!" However, a well was
urgently needed, so an attempt had to be executed in the layered shale. "We didn't know where
to drill," Marie said, "so I told John, 'those Hopis must have known something so let's drill in
the same location as our old well.'" After some drilling, with no results, Marie wondered if
perhaps they were making a big mistake, "with every ka-chunk of that mighty drill bit," Marie
said, "I could just see the dollars go down the drain or rather down the well!" Finally, they did
indeed hit water and it gushed all over the yard. From that point on the well has served the
property more than adequately.
After a while our hostess asked us if we would like to see the rest of the lodge? We followed
her up and down different levels to a cavernous long great room with low log ceilings and
ancient white painted stone walls. Everywhere we wandered we observed treasures from the
Stilley family's life in this once remote locale. "Would you like to see the old guest register
from the lodge?" Marie asked as she gingerly removed the heavy binder from an over-stuffed
bookcase. Gently, we helped her hold what looked like an old movie prop, covered with, as
Marie pointed out, "Indian tanned cowhide." Gingerly, we turned the pages and reviewed the
memorabilia: famous guest names and the coming and goings of dude ranch visitors from
nearly 80-years ago. “Joe Grant, a Walt Disney artist stayed here once with Walt Disney's
sister," Marie said excitedly as she located a color drawing of a deer at the back of the binder.
"This," Marie said, "was the real Bambi from the famous Disney movie!" With rather large
ears, a spotted deer gazed back at us. The story goes that the artist and Ruth Disney were
staying at the lodge and went for a walk one day in the forests out back. In a clearing of high
grass they spotted a new-born deer resting in the shadows. Naturally they were inclined to stop
and pet it. Joe expertly sketched the beautiful forest creature. When they returned to the lodge
someone told them, "you should never touch a fawn as the mother will come back and smell
the human scent and abandon the baby leaving it to starve to death." The two visitors were
naturally distraught having never heard this 'Law of Nature'. So it was decided that the deer
would be moved to the dude ranch to live out it's life. The fawn settled in comfortably at the
ranch and was a big hit with the guests. He became especially fond of Billi, the daughter of the
ranch's owner Leo Weaver and would sleep at night on the end of her bed in the lodge.
However, as little deer go, Bambi became a teenager and would start to exercise his authority
by chasing and butting the guests. It was decided that he should go to live on a ranch up near
the Grand Canyon. There he seemed to be happy, more so after breaking into the sleeping
porch of the ranch house when no one was home and claiming the bed there as his very own.
Sadly, his life was short lived though, as by then, he had a full set of antlers which made him an
attractive target. After the first hunting season, Bambi was never to be seen again, likely
ending up a trophy on some hunter’s wall. Very sad indeed.
Carefully replacing the ancient book Marie led us over to a framed etching of an 'ole-time
cowboy that was faded and yellowed with age. Inscribed by ‘Joe Grant to Leo Weaver’, this
drawing looked like it originated in a Disney cartoon. "Leo," Marie said, "owned several dude
ranches in Arizona, one at Wickenburg and another at Lee's Ferry."
Marie led us into another corner of the comfortable room where we noticed a Steinway and
Sons piano and a Hammond organ. My musical friend was immediately drawn to them. "Do you
play," Marie asked inquisitively? As he hesitated I said, "don't let him fool you, he's a
consummate pianist and has played before 5000 people at one point." However, no amount of
cajoling could get him to sit and play for us, "too rusty," was his curt reply.
Marie then turned her attention to the ceiling and with a sweep of her hand said, "these are the
logs Helen Frye personally painted. I had no idea what to do with this room but she knew just
how to brighten it up and make it into a real western home!" Soon we made it back into the
adjoining room which Marie said once served as her dining-living room area. "We had Jack and
Helen up for dinner one evening and that's when I first met Jack Frye. We had our dinner
right here in this room. Before hand I asked Helen 'what does Jack like to eat?', Helen replied,
'he loves pinto beans.' So I cooked up a big pot of beans and served them with cornbread, pork
chops, and a salad. A real Texas-style dinner," Marie exclaimed, "and Jack loved it too!" She
added, "he was the most humble man, quiet, unassuming, a real regular guy, certainly the kind
of man you felt like you had known forever and totally different than I expected." Unrelated to
dinner, Marie related that a friend of hers in the Village of Oak Creek was in Long Beach the
day Howard Hughes flew his H-4 Hercules, in 1947.
With the story about the cowboy dinner for the Fryes we are reminded that at one time Sedona
was a very small town, intimate and exclusive, populated by some of the countries most
illustrious people and some of the world's most famous artists. "We all knew each other,"
Marie said, "and we all attended the same parties." Marie recounted several such gatherings,
one at the Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst home off Sedona's Brewer Road, another, down in
the canyon at the home of George Babbitt, a party, she added, where George was first
introduced to Madeline Hunter. Another guest was Zoe Mozert. Lastly, another memorable
party at the Marguerite Staude Ranch out by the Poco Diablo Resort attended by the usual
Sedona guests, Helen Frye, Nassan Gobran, Eddie Ellinger, Cecil Lockhart-Smith, and many
more early Sedonans. Sculptress Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a Frank Lloyd Wright disciple,
was the architect of the famous Sedona Chapel of the Holy Cross. This beautiful sculpture-
chapel built into the red rocks is now world-famous and many come from far away to experience
Eventually, we found ourselves in the first room we had entered that day which Marie
explained, was once a bedroom. "We didn't need it and rather than waste the lovely view we
decided to turn it into a sitting area," she explained. We all sat down by the warm inviting fire
and talked about Helen Frye and the impact she made on the lives of so many of her
contemporaries. "There would be no uptown Sedona Arts Center if it weren't for Helen Frye,"
Marie stated firmly. She continued, "in the beginning there was a search for a location which
would be suitable for a new art school. One day, I had Helen, Nassan Gobran, and Cecil
Lockhart-Smith here in my home. Nassan and Cecil stood right in front of my fireplace over
there and told me it was Helen's idea to use the old Jordan apple and peach barn. With Helen's
help they were able to eventually secure it and the barn became the new Sedona Arts Center."
It was initially these three early Sedona visionaries who were the driving force behind this
project, a fact sadly missed with the current historical narrative of the origins of the Sedona
Arts Center today!
"One time, a while after Jack and Helen had divorced," Marie said, "Helen had desired to sell
out and move on. She rang me up and offered to sell John and I the entire Frye Ranch for just
thirty thousand dollars!" "At the time," Marie said, "John and I owned so much property we
just didn't need anymore. Just think though what it would be worth today!" "As for Jack Frye,"
Marie said, "Helen loved him deeply, they were soul mates." Marie continued, "right before
Jack died, he was at the ranch with Helen, the next day he was gone,” Marie looked away
wistfully. Frye intimates state a re-marriage was planned after Jack's pending divorce (1958).
Marie continued her interesting narrative of early Sedona life, "our cabin in Sedona which
adjoins Helen's Wings of the Wind was a project for the boys and their father on the weekends.
That's why it is so rustic and simple." Marie went on, "John received the property through a
forest service land trade in 1947. He had been to the forest service office in Sedona inquiring
about available parcels. They told him about a 20-acre parcel that adjoined the Frye Smoke
Trail Ranch. At that time, the U.S.F.S. only cared about timbered land, the red rocks were
worthless to them. Eventually, John found a parcel in the Arizona White Mountains which was
acceptable to them for a trade, at about 120 acres. Back then, a trade required about 5-6 acres
to 1." So when all was said and done the available 20-acre parcel became the Stilley property off
Red Rock Loop Road in Sedona. "And that," Marie continued, "is how we became neighbors of
Jack and Helen Frye! Later, when we built the cabin, we didn't have any water so Helen let us
run a hose over to her Wings of the Wind water well. Soon, though, we realized that this
wouldn't do for long and we went ahead and drilled our own well. We have had good water down
there every since."
The Fryes and the Stilleys became close friends and neighbors. Sheer cliffs separate the
properties which are both perched on rocky pinnacles. At the end of her life Helen was living a
life of quiet solitude at the Wings of the Wind. Marie and Helen would often visit back and
forth (or rather shout) across the abyss (between the cliffs) to check on each other and share
news as good neighbors do. "Have you climbed our steel ladder?" Marie continued, "it was too
far and hot to walk around all the other adjoining properties every time we wanted to get to the
creek for a cool dip so we hired a man who worked with steel to fashion us a ladder over the
cliff and down to the creek. It was the perfect solution and the ladder is still solid and strong!"
So, with that, we packed up the equipment and said goodbye to our charming hostess. On the
way back down the switchbacks, through Oak Creek Canyon, and home to Sedona, we both felt
honored at all the rich and warm history that had been shared with us. It was like Jack and
Helen, and all their wonderful friends, had been brought back to life and were still with us in
spirit. I was moved, I turned to my friend and said "I think this will all make a wonderful
story!" What a wonderful beginning to the community we both love so much! Sedona should
never forget it’s rich legacy and all the marvelous people who have “walked before us through
this beautiful enchanted red rock valley!” And so it was- the end.
The Stilley’s own a small rustic cabin next to Helen’s Wings of the Wind property however
their main home is in Flagstaff Arizona where John was a renowned dentist for many years.
John’s wife Marie was one of Helen’s closest friends and even knew Jack Frye as well.
We noticed one last portrait of a beautiful and
regal woman. "Who painted this one?" I
asked. Marie explained the portrait was of her,
and that a friend of she and Helen's Zoe
Mozert painted it in 1960. I was impressed with
the radiance of the image. Marie continued,
"Zoe, an early Sedona artist, had a contract
with Brown and Bigelow to do tasteful nudes
for their calendars. She also did a portrait of
my mother." By the time Zoe Mozert died she
was recognized as one of the country's
foremost illustrators. She also did many
paintings; however, these are rarely seen now
some 50 years later. In Hollywood Zoe did a
variety of work, celebrity portraits and movie
posters such as "The Outlaw" with Jane
Russell, as commissioned by Howard Hughes.
In the infancy of Sedona, many celebrities and
artists came together to partake of the essence
of the area's beautiful canyons and valleys.
From Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning to
Nassan Gobran, Helen Frye, and Zoe Mozert,
to name just a few, a utopia was experienced!
Sedona's History with the Arts is Thanks to
Some Pretty Remarkable Sedona Residents!
Helen's Dear Friend Rosie Targhetta Armijo
The two images above are of 'old John' who was kind of a Smoke Trail Ranch icon. He lived on
the Frye Ranch just beyond the (now) Arizona State Park (Entry Gate Pay Station) in a little
hut (shack). His needs were simple so Helen allowed him to live on Smoke Trail Ranch for free.
He used to catch fish and take them up to her at the House of Apache Fires. On one of these
occasions, in a crashing thunder storm, he was standing outside the kitchen window of the
house peering in. Rosie Targhetta happened to be in the kitchen at the time and looked up to
see his weathered face highlighted by a mighty flash of lightning. She screamed with fear
before she realized it was old John holding up a mess of fish, beckoning to be let in out of the
torrential downpour. On the (left) we see a Christmas card of Old John which he sent out to
friends and family one Holiday, the photo was taken by no other than Helen Frye herself who
shared a mastery of photography with Jack Frye. The image (right) is a painting Helen did of
John later, which now resides with Helen Frye’s family.
Frye Ranch- Old John
Quintessential Sedona- There is No Equal!
Celebrity Portraits- Essence of 1940's Glamour
The lithograph displayed aside by Dorothea
Tanning was entered by her in an exhibition in
1974. The inspiration was from 1948 or 1949
and little known are the details. The elephant
is Max Ernst, the two nude women are Helen
Frye, and Dorothea Tanning, the incoming
plane is Jack Frye arriving at the ranch in his
Lockheed twin (location Frye Ranch Sedona).
Both Jack and Helen, and Dorothea were
naturists, this to mean they were all nudists
and the ranch was very much a place of free
expression despite jeers of closed-minded
Sedona locals. The image here is courtesy of
RoGallery Auction. Please see link at the
Dorothea Tanning website.
In closing this page and regarding Helen's
artistic expression I have one last tidbit. Helen
was a marvelous writer, in regard to this, her
niece Sheryl once told me, "Helen never let
the truth stand in the way of a good story!"
This is quite a compliment to Helen who was
beloved by so many, all loved her story-telling!