Steve and Jane Fry’s love for pottery began in 1970 at Hesston College where they were fortunate to be under the instruction and inspiration of Paul Friesen, a seminarian and pastor who launched the college’s visual arts program. Weaving together his faith and interest in the arts, Friesen taught that the visual arts can be meditative and a significant teaching media. That idea took hold with Steve and Jane, becoming a part of their lifetime focus.
In 1974, Steve built his first kiln in Hutchinson, where he and Jane planned to settle and make pottery and weavings. But an opportunity to work in Georgia with other potters, including D.X. Gordy, a third-generation master craftsman, beckoned, and they went. Then, in 1976, the Frys “clicked their heels” and returned to Kansas – this time settling in the small, rural community of Elk Falls near its rare and gorgeous, namesake waterfall. Again, work began on a kiln, then a shop, then in earnest they were digging and processing native Kansas clays, planting a garden, raising goats, and starting a family.
Fast-forward 42 years, and we find the Frys deeply rooted in Elk Falls, but now located at the “Rock Garden,” a very unusual and formerly abandoned 1896 farmstead along the Elk River. They purchased it in 2004, and the main barn has become the pottery studio.
Their time in Georgia gave the Frys an appreciation for the early American stoneware which has been an influence in their work to this day. Steve still digs the clay from a deposit in the plains of central Kansas – in keeping with his passion for taking the pottery process all the way back to the earth itself. He also does most of the throwing, still preferring the rhythm and silence of his hand-built, 19th-century-style treadle wheel. Jane primarily does the hand-building, trimming, staining, glazing, and loading of the kilns. The pottery they make at their small, family enterprise continues to provide the kind of “homegrown” lifestyle the Frys have come to love, while maintaining a high quality with that human touch found only in things made by hand. In addition, their signature mugs, pitchers, goblets, bowls, trays, and other pieces are as functional as they are exquisite.
That easygoing lifestyle is evident in the way they list their hours on their Facebook page, with the studio opening “… most days about 8 or 9. Occasionally as early as 7. But some days as late as 11 or 12. We close about 5 or 6 – occasionally about 4 or 5, but sometimes as late as 12 or 1.”
Despite their rural location in a town of around 100 residents, Elk Falls Pottery has amassed a following on Facebook of nearly 1,900. A reliable Internet connection in their studio has been key to sharing their work and providing a great customer experience.
“Having SKT Internet in the new shop has been a game changer for us. Everything from being able to process credit cards to streaming radio stations we can’t get and answering questions from customers while in the shop. I don’t know how we got along without it,” Steve said.
Learn more about Elk Falls Pottery and make plans to visit the studio, located at 1954 US 160. Don’t miss their fall open house during the Elk Falls Outhouse Tour & Contest Nov. 16-17, featuring Christmas mugs and ornaments, a large selection of stoneware, outhouse mugs, potter’s wheel demonstrations, and more.