An Ancient Call to Sedona Beckoned Photographer Susie Reed

Photographer Susie Reed shares her Call of Sedona, a call that changed her art and changed her life.

LT: Susie, how did you first learn about Sedona?

Susie ReedSR: I first learned about Sedona in 1993. I was running a small business in Marin County, CA and my office manager came to me one day all excited; she wanted to go to Sedona, her friends had gone and it was so great, she had to go right away. Within 2 weeks she came back and she showed me these photographs she took with her little pocket camera, and then I was like, “I gotta go to Sedona.” I’d never seen it before; I didn’t know what it was. Christmas of that year we came out here and we arrived at night. We woke up in the morning to all of the beauty here, and I just fell in love with it immediately. I started to make annual pilgrimages out here, before I finally moved here at the end of 2005.

LT: You have photographed various subjects through the years, but discovering Sedona’s Native American rock art and a series of events changed the course of your career. Please tell us about that.

SR: At first I was completely satisfied with photographing the landscape. I call Sedona “a photographer’s paradise.” We were out here at Christmas in 2009 and we drove up to the end of this dirt road and we saw a sign that said “Palatki.” We hiked in, and we went up this hill and I remember you could like feel the presence of the ancients. And then we got up to the top of the hill and discovered all this amazing rock art that we had no idea was there.

That was a real big experience for me. When I got home, I looked at my pictures; I was even more taken with them. It’s just interesting to see how when you frame out the rock art in the photograph, you can almost see it better. I just got hooked. And then when I’d come to Sedona, my primary focus got to be photographing the rock art.

LT: The rock art images at the site are truly amazing; it is easy to understand how they would inspire you!

SR: I think they contain a power and energy from when they were originally created that is timeless. What we see today when we go out to most of the rock art sites is they’re faded from exposure to the sun and weather, and unfortunately in some places they’re defaced with graffiti, sheared off canyon walls or lost to development. It’s really kind of a shame. But there’s just something about those images that I think is timeless, and I think some of them were probably made by the shaman of the tribe and they’re very powerful, healing images.

Native American rock art

LT: Please tell us about the point when, like Ilchi Lee, your Call of Sedona became a life quest.

SR: So, I went back, probably a year or two after the trip where we first came across Palatki, and I was out here by myself and the place I was staying had one of those little travel magazines with a small article about rock art and they mentioned this one site that wasn’t open to the public and something in me went, “I gotta go there.” It was the same thing as when I thought, “I gotta go to Sedona.” So I spent about two and a half years over several trips here, trying to find where it was, and eventually I found out that the Forest Service had taken over the property. So I called and went through a whole chain of people before I got to a lady who agreed to let me go.

I drive out there and park at the gate and I see there is a Forest Service truck on the other side of the gate. And this man gets out, and he comes over and I tell him what I’m doing, and he says, “I’m out here to give a tour of our new sites to some of the forest service workers and the docents, would you like to join us?” Like perfect timing! It was Peter Pilles, the head Archaeologist in the Coconino National Forest.

So I went on a tour with them and I was so grateful that he gave me this opportunity that I brought him some photographs on my next trip, and this relationship developed between he and I where he essentially became my mentor. I’d never studied archaeology; my degree is in fine art photography. I started planning trips to Sedona based on arrangements I made with Peter to shoot archaeology digs, field schools, a restoration project at Honanki, a docent training at Palatki and more. Over the years, I’ve donated hundreds of photos from these shoots and others to the Coconino National Forest archives.

LT: You mentioned that, unfortunately there have been times when visitors to some sites have caused intentional damage to the rock walls and art.

SR: Once I was talking with Peter and he was telling me that this site had been graffitied, and I was really upset. I asked him, “Are we better off keeping these places hidden?” And he said, “No, education is the way to go.” Based on Peter’s influence, I really learned that one of the ways to preserve these places is through education.

So when I do talks, I always let people know what happens when people go in and graffiti a wall or do damage. It really has turned me into a conservationist and preservationist. I do think it’s important that we go visit these sacred sites, and they just don’t stay empty, because I think it keeps the energy in those places alive. To me, going there is like going to church.

I realized at one point when I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to share the rock art photos, I thought, ‘you know, I can share these photographs, people can still see and experience the rock art and we can leave these sacred archaeology fragile sites untouched.’ So people can still experience what‘s there without having to go physically to the place.

I’m really thinking the ancients still want some of that to be seen. I guess in some ways that’s why so many doors have opened up for me to get my work out into the world. It’s almost like they have an energy—there’s something energetically in them that we respond to, whether we consciously get it or not.

LT: Please tell us about your current projects and what may be on the horizon for you.

SR: I’ve been nominated for the Sedona Mayor’s Arts Award in the Individual Category, which is an honor. At their last ceremony, they showed a video about me and my photographs that helped people become more aware of the rock art. I feel like I have a partnership with the ancients whose rock art I depict. I think, ‘if they were sitting in the room, while I’m working in my studio, would they be pleased and excited about what I’m doing?’

I also photograph a lot of the landscape and teach photography. I was lucky; in 2009 I got accepted into Goldenstein Gallery, where now I’m one of only three photographers she exhibits.

I also do some customized jeep tours. I kind of fell in love with the land all over again, going out on tours, like when I first came here. For a long time, most of my photography was rock art sites, but now I go out to all the amazing places on the land. It’s so beautiful and healing, and no place is ever the same twice.

I love going out on the jeep tours, especially with people from out of town, because it helps me to see it new and fresh, how I used to feel when I’d come to visit: How special it is to be at these places!

LT: Thank you, Susie!

By Lynn A. Trombetta

The Call of Sedona Came Early for Artist, Syri Hall

Sedona helped shape Syri Hall’s early art career in many ways. As it is for Ilchi Lee, Sedona continues to inspire. She shares her story in our recent interview.

Syri Hall

LT: First, Syri, please tell our readers a little about your art.

SH: I do painting, drawing, and sculpture, and I’m completely addicted to photography! And lately, I’ve been doing some plein air.

LT: When did you first experience the beauty of Sedona?

SH: My parents moved to Phoenix when I was a year old, and we immediately started coming up to Sedona, the year was 1955. We came up frequently for picnics, and then my parents decided they wanted to spend most of the summer up here. They bought a travel trailer, and we parked it at Indian Gardens. So I got to roller skate at the rink across the street, and we bought our groceries at the Indian Gardens store.

LT: It sounds like you have wonderful memories of your summers in Sedona!

SH: Yes, we got to go to the Slide Rock when I was a kid, when maybe there would be only one other couple, or no one at all. We got to go to Jerome, where there would be just a handful of people. I had the unique experience of spending a lot of time up here ever since I was one year old.

I always knew I wanted to live up here. When I was in my late teens and my freshman year in college, my parents built a house up here, in West Sedona. We spent every weekend and every holiday, and whenever we could in Sedona. And Marc, my husband now, was in on it, because I met him when I was a freshman. He and I spent tons of time here until we graduated and then we moved up here in 1977.

LT: When did you begin doing art?

SH: I was little, my parents and older brother bought paint kits at the Indian Gardens store: paint-by-numbers, and I made such a stink that they went and bought me one. It was red roses, and that’s how I started painting! I’ve always painted, drawn, and sculpted. I got my first camera when I was seven, and I’ve been addicted ever since.

After moving here, I started taking classes at the Sedona Arts Center. I took a lot of classes because I’d switched majors my junior year of college from business administration to art, and I didn’t feel like I had had enough art in those first two years. Then I started working in a bronze factory and got interested in sculpture. I took sculpture from Eugenia Everett and Ken Ottinger, and I studied stained glass and all kinds of stuff. That’s when I started sculpting—33 years ago.

LT: What projects are on the horizon for you, for your art?

SH: I want to start a woman’s plein air group as soon as it cools off. Go head out, pick a spot and people show up when they want—a very informal kind of a thing, for women. Also, I’m in touch with some people, and we’re thinking of resurrecting “Sculpture Walk.” I was involved way back, only as I was showing in it. I had little kids at the time, but now, I think I’m ready and I feel the town is ready for something like that.

LT: Your Call of Sedona came at such a tender age! How has Sedona influenced you as an artist?

SH: I look at the red rocks every single day. I’ve always considered the red rocks of Sedona to be Mother Nature’s crowning achievement! There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t admire the rocks!
Like today—with those beautiful poofy clouds; I’ve been out doing some photography, and I can’t get enough of it! I hike, I ride my horse, and I always have my camera with me. As I mentioned, I’ve been doing some plein air lately. I really haven’t painted anywhere but here, but I don’t think there’s anything quite as interesting as Sedona. I actually started plein air painting about thirteen years ago, but I realized all of a sudden I really like it: I like capturing what I see!

LT: Thank you, Syri!

By Lynn A. Trombetta

Local Author Kris Neri Discovered Magical Gifts in Sedona that Drew Her Back

Award-winning author, Kris Neri tells the story of her own “Call to Sedona” and how for her, the magic never ends.

Kris Neri, Sedona author

Lynn Trombetta: Kris, you’ve done well with your writing. Please tell how, like Ilchi Lee, you experienced your own Call of Sedona, and how that has influenced your career as an award-winning fiction writer.

Kris Neri: I don’t think my story is that different from other people; the first time I came I was struck by the beauty, but mostly I was struck by the sense that this place was in some way magical. My husband Joe and I kept finding ourselves coming back again and again. When we had an opportunity to go elsewhere, we always wanted to go to Sedona. And increasingly when we returned home to Los Angeles, where we lived, we both felt, just “sadder,” and that we had lost something by leaving Sedona.

One of the times when I came, I had just an epiphany: the characters and a fantasy situation came to me, whole! I just knew who these characters were. I knew what their situation was. It just felt like a gift. And I never wrote fantasy before- I always wrote mystery! I went home and put them in a couple of stories, which were published.

The characters wouldn’t let go of me, and I eventually put them into two novels, one of which is set in Sedona. I’ve really regarded them as gifts from this special place. I can’t explain the way it happened. One novel has received a major award nomination and the other one won the 2012 New Mexico – Arizona Book Award for Fantasy.

And the awards, to me just validated that I was supposed to follow that path with them, and this was just the reward for doing it.

There are certainly other places that I have been touched by visiting, but there’s never been any place that I’ve felt gave me the same things that I find in Sedona.

LT: Tell us a bit more about the two novels, please.

KN: The two book titles are “High Crimes on the Magical Plane” and “Magical Alienation.” They feature a questionable psychic and a modern goddess. I draw on my Irish background and the Celtic tales that my mother told me as a child, and I use those things in both stories. “Magical Alienation” won the award for Fantasy.

LT: So, at what point did you decide to make Sedona your home?

KN: We moved here in 2005. That was really after a good twenty years of visiting, and a few years of coming several times a year. I think it’s true that Sedona just calls some people.

When we decided we wanted to move, we had to figure out a way to make a living here. We started the Well Red Coyote that same year. It is a general interest bookstore, which means we carry everything, and our idea was that we wanted it to be a real community gathering place. So by now we have featured thousands of authors appearing and doing various presentations. And loads of free musical concerts. And I think the community has responded and does view it the same way we do.

LT: Kris, what’s on the horizon for you?

KN: I just signed the contract to write an e-novella for a new company, Stark Raving, that’s based in Beverly Hills. I’ve just started writing and it will be called, “Trust No One.” It is kind of a thriller.

After nine years in Sedona, I still don’t feel that I’ve lost any of the magic. To me I still feel thrilled by the sight of the red rocks; I’m still struck by the size of the sky – the way the sky seems to go on forever. And just the richness of all the colors. I have never become even one little bit indifferent to it.

LT: Thank you, Kris!

By Lynn Trombetta

Guitarist Fitzhugh Jenkins Found 1980’s Sedona to Be Fertile Ground for Musical and Spiritual Growth

Guitarist Fitzhugh JenkinsFitzhugh Jenkins: Much as Ilchi Lee described the inherent qualities of Sedona in The Call of Sedona, guitarist Fitzhugh Jenkins tells the story of a “spiritual unfoldment” in himself and his career in our interview.

LT: Fitzhugh, how did you come to live in Sedona?

FJ: I grew up in Hawaii, and then I moved to Los Angeles in 1980, where I was doing studio work. Right then is when the Shah of Iran was exiled. The whole hostage crisis started, so the Shah’s private court of musicians and belly dancers all came to L.A. They were in exile because the Shah was kicked out and Khomeini came into power. I ended up touring for ten years with all those musicians, playing bass, and it was really fruitful musically. (The Jazz Bedouins, this band I’ve had for twenty years, that’s all based on when I was touring with the Iranians, based on Persian music.)

I was always on a real spiritual trip. When the touring dried up, I moved a little bit north to Ojai, California because Krishna Murdi was living up there and doing talks in the oak grove. But then he passed away. I went into the health food store and the guy said, “Come into my office and I’ll show you where I wish I lived.” He had pictures of Sedona all over the wall of his office in his health food store.

I ended up coming out here and really resonated with it. This was before Sedona was incorporated into a city, and there were only about 8,000 people living here. It was just a real fabulous time of my life. I was just so tired of L.A. and tired of big cities. Here I just really got into writing my own original music, because I was always playing everybody else’s music in L.A.

There was a health food store here in the late 80’s called, “Food Among the Flowers,” and I just went down there one day and started playing, and I was never out of work since. People heard me, and it became a real musical and spiritual renaissance for me.

LT: You are among the most working musicians in this town, in a steady, quiet way.

FJ: You know, I’ve never promoted, or solicited myself, or asked for a gig. I just utilized spiritual principles to draw work to myself, without reaching out, and that was taught to me by some metaphysical musicians in Los Angeles. Instead of wasting energy pounding the pavement, you actually draw to you what you need in your life. It’s really just understanding that we’re living in a spiritual universe, and it’s not a material universe. It’s interesting, because it was like that all the way back to when I was fifteen in Hawaii; I had all the best gigs in Hawaii too.

LT: And you attribute that more to the spiritual aspects, than to the obvious talent that you have? These are clearly working together, but do you think you had a sense of that spiritual essence of it even when you were fifteen?

FJ: Yes. I read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda when I was thirteen on the beach in front of my house in Hawaii. I lived in this bungalow my parents had at the foot of Diamond Head. Another thing that really shaped the music, I was thirteen and I was getting into guitar. The promoters that brought all the famous rock bands to Hawaii back then put them all in the house right next door to me! Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Steve Miller, and Led Zeppelin most notably, so these guys would all hang out in front of my house because there was a little patch of perfect white beach, right there.

I would surf in front of my house, and I’d come in and be learning Jimi Hendrix tunes on my guitar, and literally right across, under a banana tree, he’d be in the next little casita there, teasing his hair and getting ready to do a concert. The limousine would pick him up, and I’d catch the bus down to the concert at the HIC—Honolulu International Center: front row center for $5.00!

These were really formative years: to be exposed not only to going to the concerts, but then being exposed to those musicians, and then – they’d just sit up and jam all day! But at the same time, I was really doing the spiritual thing, so I really believe instead of being really ambitious about the music and the career, I believed that the music was just a vehicle for me to lead a contemplative life.

LT: From what I understand, both your musical and your spiritual interests may have genetic influences.

FJ: The music is just a nice thing that I can do, and I inherited the gene, and I was encouraged by my parents. My mother was little Annie Pickard on the Golden Voice on the Grand Ole Opry. My Grandfather and another guy started the Grand Ole Opry. And my Mom used to sing on it when she was four years old. They made a killing in 1929 when the stock market crashed and everybody wanted to hear music, so they all moved out to L.A. and bought a bunch of houses in North Hollywood next to Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. There were always guitars, pianos, and musical instruments, so they all encouraged this, so there was the musical genes, and the encouragement, and everything.

The spiritual thing tied in because my Mom was a metaphysician. She never took me to the doctor, she always healed me metaphysically. So I think that I incarnated into my parents situation because it gave me a fruitful environment to develop spiritually, and then have an occupation doing something that I really enjoyed. Instead of pictures of rock stars on my walls, when I was growing up I had paintings of “The guitarist” by Picasso, this hundred year old arthritic, withered [musician]—that’s something that I aspired to, “I want to do this when I’m 100.” I want to go the long haul, like Ravi Shankar or something.

LT: Moving to Sedona seems to have brought you profound growth, both musically and spiritually.

FJ: Moving to Sedona is like the epitome of all of that unfoldment. In the years that I’ve lived here I’ve gone to India a lot, and South America and Europe and traveled a lot, but I’ve always loved coming back to Sedona, it’s always felt like my home. All of my Hollywood musician friends came out to visit when I first moved here. They all asked, “Why do you want to move here?” They didn’t understand that this was really the beginning of a spiritual journey.

The land, the earth, and everything is just so spiritual, the elements and the air, even the community, just the whole vibe of itself, really lended to me what was perfect for my spiritual evolution. So it’s almost like the music is the avocation, and the spiritual journey is the vocation.

LT: Please describe how the two practices have intertwined in your life.

FJ: I think that being a musician and being on a spiritual path is really complementary. It affords you the time to meditate a lot and read a lot of spiritual literature and be contemplative and live the contemplative life. People say, “You’ve got to stop the mind, stop the mind from moving, and you’ve got to do all these tricks for meditation.” I try to do all that and my mind’s always dancing around. But when I play the guitar, it really does stop! When you’re playing an instrument, you’re not thinking about what you’re going to buy at the grocery store. Your mind just stops. And that’s meditation. To me, that’s 100% meditation.

LT: Please give our readers a glimpse of what Sedona was like for you when you began living here in 1989?

FJ: This was when you could camp anywhere around here; there was no forest or the fees, there was nothing like that. I had my van, it had a sunroof, you could open up the doors and there was a bed in it. This was like a renaissance for me; I’d just drive down to all these parts of the creek around here in ’89, ’90, ’91. I took my guitar, and I just developed my style, down on the creek. So, it was a very “yin” style. It wasn’t the “yang” style that I had developed on the bass with a lot of macho kind of aggressive chops and techniques, it was just very “yin” and floating and everything.

Because of grace—I was very grateful and lucky—because I just did this thing and then the universe just kind of always opened up for it. It’s been a real testimony that you really can control your life; you can really let the powers that be guide your life, if you’re in resonance with spirit. I think you can have all the opulence, all the abundance, the success, if you’re really in the flow with the universe.

It’s really being in a right brain flow, ‘God lead me, direct me, guide me, show me what to do.’ And I’ve really been so grateful that I’ve been able to make my living as a musician. And it’s really not about that I’m some kind of fantastic musician, it’s about being in the flow with life and being grateful.

LT: I’ve enjoyed our interview immensely.

FJ: It was wonderful sharing with you. It’s good for me too, because it puts my thoughts into a perspective. It’s like teaching: You teach what you know, and then you understand what you know. So, I appreciate it too.

LT: Thank you, Fitzhugh.

By Lynn A. Trombetta

Featured Artist Ralf Illenberger: Musician Finds Calmness and Clarity among the Red Rocks

Composer, producer, and guitarist Ralf Illenberger is known for his extremely dynamic instrumental music that is both accessible and experimental. His experience spans a varied and successful thirty-year career that includes hits in Europe and the U.S., sales of over 400,000 CDs, and performances in more than 50 countries. In 1994, Illenberger left Germany with only a suitcase and his guitar to heed his “Call of Sedona.” Here he shares his story with us along with some of his dreams and plans for the future.

Ralf Illenberger

LT: Ralf, please tell our readers about the first time you saw Sedona.

RI: The first time I came to Sedona was 1987 when I had my first concert in the U.S. I was still living in Germany and had only a few concerts here in the United States. When that was through I visited a friend in Sedona. When I saw Sedona, it was very fascinating, but it was part of a tour where I saw the whole southwest. I went to the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, so Sedona kind of blended in with all of the sights at that point; it was one of several wonderful places.

Six years later I came back. It was 1993, and I was touring in America a lot. I was touring for concerts with Narada Records, so two times a year I flew over to America for different interviews and tours because the albums were quite well received here. I visited Sedona again with a different friend, (now my former wife who had just come to Sedona two months before from the Chicago area.) Since I had some time, I stayed here for a few days.

I was traveling a lot between Europe and the United States, and I thought “why am I not making my home base here?” I’d fly to Germany and come back, you know. That’s what I’m still doing, but in 1994 I came back over here to live, with just a suitcase and my guitar!

LT: So you weren’t trying to establish yourself as a musician here in Sedona, you were using it as a home base. Correct?

RI: Yes. During the years, people got to know me in Sedona too, from playing a lot here. But that was never the point of why I came to Sedona. What we need to inspire us is here in Sedona—the monumental landscape and also the feeling I have on my “inner landscape;” it is really different.

LT: Please, tell us about that.

RI: I still go each year, two times back to Germany, for touring and concerts. Sedona is quite a different experience for me. Each time I come back it gives me more calmness, more concentration. I just like the way I feel here, physically and mentally. It’s a very clear environment. Dry and clear, and I like the desert too. It’s really my home now. That’s how I feel. So Ilchi Lee had that same feeling too?

LT: Yes, Ilchi writes extensively on his experiences, from the ordinary to the mystical in his book, The Call of Sedona. He has had many visions here. He hiked the rocks and came to know the land intimately, and almost immediately his calling grew so strong that he knew he must be here.

RI: Even though my real home is Germany and I grew up in Germany, I still like Germany, but here is where I feel really good about myself. It’s a nice place to “re-set.” Also, I really developed here a very personal relationship with nature and the magic of it. It just did not happen in Germany the way it happened here.

LT: When you speak of nature, are you referring to the sky, the rocks, the land, maybe animals?

RI: Everything, even spirits! The whole of nature!

LT: I know you photograph clouds, capturing surprising and beautiful images of angels, Native Americans, and other spirits hidden within. Do you still do this?

RI: Yes, I want to publish a book about it, with all of my angels, and I’m close now to finishing with my writing. I hope to publish it this year.

Ralf Illenberger's sky photograph

LT: How would you describe Sedona to someone who has never seen it?

RI: I would say it’s a land of the red rocks and it’s really small, and it’s still somehow hidden. I flew over one time in a little airplane and realized how small it is. It’s just five square miles or so; it’s just one little “red bowl” here!

I like that Sedona is really a melting pot of interesting people. There’s really a special breed of people here in Sedona. There are so many artists, really good ones on all levels, and then the tourist scene goes with it! It’s a lot of alternative kinds of people. I like the idea too that you can have belief in whatever you want—anything is possible here—and it feels like it! Nobody really looks at you and says “you’re crazy;” it’s like it’s just part of the deal, as seen from the outside, you know!

LT: How big of a decision was it to actually move here?

RI: I was living in Germany—so it was a huge decision! I kind of left everything there in storage—wow, you don’t need a lot. Then I got rid of it, years later, because I realized I didn’t need to bring it all here.

LT: I know you’ve had a U.S. Grammy nomination as well as the German Record Awards nomination (German ‘Grammy’ equivalent).

RI: Now I have Thunder Mountain recording studio in my home. I think I’ve produced fifteen or sixteen CDs since I came here, in my studio: my own music and other people’s. Sedona is very inspiring! I’m really good at opening people up so they play really good: It’s one of my fortes! I realized that through the years. In my studio, people play really great and do great recordings! If somebody has their own song, I’m arranging too. I play everything from keyboards, drums, and guitars as accompaniment on the arrangements. I spent time with Eric Miller last night in the studio. He’s well known here, and together we have a new album coming out soon. We listened to the whole thing, and we’re very close to finished. It’s very different—I make all the music, and he’s singing. It’s kind of pop songs, but really “out there” and really cool! We think “creative pop” describes it well.

I wanted to say before, establishing the connection to be with nature, that feeling is really strong for me! I feel it calling, and I have a totally different understanding of nature now. This is how I recognized it: I was sitting on a hill, and it took a while. In the beginning, I was just sitting there enjoying the landscape, and at some point I realized, “Ohh!”

I think that in a way, you have to be by yourself, because in groups of people it’s not showing itself to you. I’ve had other people share that this has happened to them in the same way. You really have to be by yourself so you can come into communication with nature.

It’s a very different experience: I know I’m never alone out there, even when I’m by myself. I feel like the world is kind of recognizing you when you’re in that state. I feel even the birds recognize it! In a way, you only have to open yourself up to nature . . . anywhere you are, I guess.

Then you can work with it—or it can work with you!

LT: Thank you, Ralf!

By L.A. Trombetta

Sedona Musician and Recording Artist, Rick Cyge Shares His “Call of Sedona” Story

By L. A. Trombetta

Rick Cyge, guitaristGuitarist Rick Cyge wound his way down Highway 89A from Flagstaff through Sedona on his way from Boston, MA to Phoenix in 1988 and was immediately smitten with the beauty of this tiny spot on the map. Ask him now and he tells the story of how a dream of returning here to live has come true.

LAT: As you relocated from Boston to Phoenix, your first visit to Sedona was an unexpected discovery.

RC: Absolutely! When we reached Flagstaff, we stayed for the night. After studying the map in the morning, I saw this winding little road that passed through a canyon and a town called Sedona (I had not heard of it before). I convinced my traveling partner that we should take the alternate route as we headed south to our ultimate destination.

As we drove into the canyon on 89A from Flag, I was stunned. Having no prior knowledge about this ‘well-kept secret,’ I had no idea what lay ahead as we approached Sedona. We only spent a few hours there and got back on the highway to Phoenix. That brief encounter with Sedona’s red rock formations and great beauty left me with an impression that would create a longing that stayed with me for years.

Not long after moving to “The Valley,” I was hired to create and manage a museum store for the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. It was there that I met and worked closely with Lynn, who was become my second and current wife. Although it was not our shared love of music that brought us together initially, it was discovering this mutual passion that compelled us to form our guitar and flute duo, Meadowlark, and leave our jobs to pursue the music together full-time, going on to compose, perform, and record our own original music inspired by nature.

We often traveled to Sedona to soak up the creative energy of the place and would perform in places like Sedona Creative Life Center and at the charming Bed and Breakfast, The Briar Patch Inn.

LAT: You say your compositions are “inspired by nature,” please, elaborate on this.

RC: A reviewer once described our original music and Meadowlark as “a priceless ticket to ride over the hills and dales of your imagination!” That’s what we’ve done—traveling to natural places and capturing the essence of the land, the air, and the waters in music that speaks of our experience there and shares that recharging energy with others. Because of our innate drive to be in nature, the more time we spent in Sedona, the stronger the pull was to be there and immerse ourselves in the creative and spiritual energy that fed our souls each time we returned.

After several years of trying to find a way to make the move, we finally crossed a threshold where we just knew we had to be there, regardless of what opportunity lie waiting for us. Being creative and entrepreneurial spirits, we were excited about the unknown and the challenge of having to create our own opportunities.

LAT: What year was this?

RC: We moved to Sedona in June of 2009, ironically, on my birthday. We’ve been here ever since.

LAT: What is the most interesting or unusual thing about your story that you would like to share?

Within a short time after finding a place to live and barely settling in, we met a very talented musician at a party who said something that really left an impression. He had been living and working as a musician in Sedona for something like 19 years. He told me that when people move to Sedona, one of two scenarios typically unfolds. “They either find their “niche” and thrive, or Sedona spits them back out as fast as they got here!” Whoa! That was a bold and profound observation, but somehow rang true to me.

I was sure then and am more so now, that we fit into that first group. I felt as if I came ‘home’ the day I arrived here and knew I was supposed to be here. Initially we lived for about a year in the Village of Oak Creek, and my projects and work brought me through the National Forest almost daily on 179 and into Sedona. It is a stunning and inspiring piece of highway with views of the red rocks that just don’t quit. The changing light and seasons keep the landscape ever fresh. I told myself that I was sure I would never take this beauty for granted and indeed, to this day, I am thankful every day that this is my daily reality.

LAT: Elaborate, please, on what your typical day is like, how Sedona might influence you.

Rick Cyge, guitarist, among the red rocksMy time in Sedona, currently is quite full of activities and projects that have all evolved from seeds that I have planted in my relatively short time here. I am quite blessed with ample opportunities to perform my music to new and appreciative audiences several times per week. This fills me with enthusiasm and creative energy for which I am ever grateful.

We live in a cottage perched on Oak Creek—the creek literally flows by our front door. We eat as many meals as weather and time permits in our front yard with the creek and lush vegetation surrounding us, and I try to get a walk in as many days a week as I can manage and feed my spirit with the visions of this magnificent place.

While Meadowlark still does concerts and special engagements, I currently perform weekly at three very different venues here in Sedona as a solo, fingerstyle guitarist. I truly enjoy all three settings. Each has a wonderful staff that makes me feel welcomed and appreciated. Sedona’s appeal to tourists means each venue draws a different mix of patrons, in all cases with a high percentage of out of town visitors providing fresh ears to play to each week.

I like the contact with these tourists who have come to enjoy the beauty here. They’re from all over the world, all walks of life and with each of my performances, I have the opportunity to meet new people and enjoy the stories of what called them to Sedona. The answers are as numbered as the visitors, but they all share a love of nature and awareness of that “special something” that Sedona is.

LAT: For you, what is the best thing that has come as a result of being in Sedona?

RC: The best thing has been the experience of being guided by intuition and spirit back to the core of my souls’ purpose. The passion that filled me once I discovered my life’s purpose and aligned with that purpose, or “calling,” fills me with a constant recognition that life is abundant and good.

Sedona feeds my soul. I love the seasons . . . just when your eye might start to take it for granted, it changes. I say “Thank you” everyday!

Internationally Renowned Wildlife Sculptor Ken Rowe Shares His “Call of Sedona” Story

By L.A. Trombetta

Call of Sedona

Ken RoweI have admired the work of artist Ken Rowe for many years, so when the opportunity arose to interview area creatives about their own “Call of Sedona,” this well-known bronze wildlife sculptor was at the top of my list! He and I both grew up in different areas of the desert of Arizona during the same years, when towns were smaller and much was still undeveloped. As we settled in for our interview, we both reminisced about our love of the land, the beauty of the saguaro cactus and palo verde trees and the indescribable scent of the creosote bush after a rain.

LAT: Ken, what was your personal Call of Sedona that brought you from the land of the lower desert to this beautiful place?

KR: This is our 19th year in Sedona. My wife, Monica and I were both born and raised in Phoenix. It was a neat town to grow up in—before the housing boom. Citrus groves, not as busy, it was nice. But we had grown tired of Phoenix. It was heart-wrenching to see it grow and destroy itself over the years. We were ready to leave. Then, suddenly through a series of events and a chance meeting, our lives were changed nearly overnight.

I was in the taxidermy business for a long time. We had our own commercial studio for 14 years and in that business I loved the anatomy and the wildlife physiology. I loved doing each animal justice by doing a great job on it, but after a time it just wasn’t fulfilling to me. I began to have an interest in sculpture.

In 1987, I finally got up enough nerve to sculpt my first piece, and although I felt it was atrocious, it was a confirmation, and I thought I could do it. I took a college course in sculpture and just kept working and working at it. So here’s the beauty in all of that; here I am a practicing taxidermist during the day, and at night I’m a sculptor surrounded by animal references that most people would die for. So, there I could sculpt anything—deer, bear, elk, moose; anything I had in that shop.

LAT: When did you begin selling in Galleries?

KR: In 1992 I got into a remarkable gallery in Scottsdale, Heritage Gallery—I’ve been with them ever since. The Murray family owned it at that time, they were legends in the art world, and so, for me going from a taxidermist to Heritage Gallery was like going to the Olympics—it was scary and exciting. And so that truly did launch it—it confirmed that I really wanted to do this full time now. I don’t know how many years it is going to take, but I know I will eventually do it full time.

Troy Murray, who was the gallery owner at that time, was an incredible influence and gave me absolutely profound direction. Now that I was “a professional,” I really dug into it, and I used to watch Ken Payne every Saturday morning on PBS, “Sculpting with Ken Payne.” He would sculpt and I would take notes.

One day I walked into Heritage Gallery to visit them, and guess who’s looking at my work? Ken Payne! And I thought, you can’t pass this up. So I introduced myself, and he said, “Oh, I really like your work!” I was on cloud nine!
I went home and told Monica, and two weeks later I got a phone call from Ken Payne. “I’ve got an offer you can’t refuse! Come up and be one of my feature artists at Mountain Trails Gallery!”

So I went from taxidermy to full-time sculpting with that one phone call, and that’s what got us up here! Monica and I sold virtually everything. We sold our house, our property, closed the business down, fast, fast, fast! Everything happened like a domino effect. But, it was nice because you know how they always say; “when you go in the right direction, things fall into place.” We found a house here in one day, in a great neighborhood, we could afford it; everything just worked out. This just absolutely fell in place!

LAT: It was more than a call, it was divine direction!

KR: Yes, “here, it’s going in your lap!” Here’s one of those weird things: When we were in our taxidermy business, we were so tired of Phoenix. So when the stroke of luck with Heritage came along, and the chance meeting with Ken Payne . . . It was like, “Oh, I know where I’m going. I’m going to the art profession. I’m moving out of this town.”

And then when Ken called, it was like, God’s taking care of us, here it is. He just put it right in our lap. Sales were beyond our greatest expectations instantly. Not because so much of the work—it was the timing, it was the staff—they were primed and ready, professional. The staff was the key—just the right fit. Ken Payne was just an amazing mentor to have . . . he was a good, good business person.

LAT: Ken. Your passion shows in every piece you create. What is the driving force behind your work?

KR: I’m totally obsessed, I really am. As a child, one of our family friends was a psychiatrist, and she was this little genius that would plant these little seeds of wisdom as I grew up. She could tell that when I got something in my head, it was just going to get done. So she said once that the best doctors, lawyers, or any professional that she could ever acquire in her lifetime were this way too. They were so focused on whatever they wanted to do, that they perfected whatever they wanted to do. So when you know how to channel it, I guess this kind of obsession is a good thing.

What I feel is, in my DNA is this reverence for animals, and it’s the root of everything that inspires me. I’ve always loved the outdoors. It’s been my benchmark for reality: Feeling stress from business? Take a walk. Get out in nature and look at what is really out there.

LAT: Ken, please tell us how Sedona has inspired you and your work.

KR: Sedona’s a creative environment, and there are a lot of great inspiring artists here. And any direction you look, driving to work, or in your yard, you see inspiring views that make you want to take a hike to see all these wonderful places. Even though I don’t paint, the outdoors has always been my barometer for reality. So here I am, in the middle of what’s often said to be the most beautiful place in the world, I pinch myself. I can’t think of anything more beautiful. And here we are living in the middle of what probably should have been a national park. God, what we take for granted once in a while. And then somebody comes in from Europe and has tears in their eyes from the sunset he saw last night, or the sunrise today, and it makes you realize we should never, ever, take it for granted.