George Phippen’s Memorial Studio in Skull Valley

Last month, AzGetawayTravel ventured to Skull Valley, Arizona to tour the Skull Valley Historical Society’s historic depot/museum, enjoy lunch at the Skull Valley Diner, visit the Skull Valley Polo Club and browse around the Skull Valley General Store. When we first arrived into the small but scenic community 18 miles southwest of Prescott, we had no idea we also would have the opportunity to visit the private studio of one of Arizona’s most famous artists: western painter and sculptor George Phippen,

ph8Probably most Arizona residents and many Arizona visitors already are familiar with George Phippen (1915-1966). He’s famous for co-founding the Cowboy Artists of America with fellow western artists Charlie Dye, John Hampton, and Joe Beeler. Phippen became the organization’s first president. More significantly he’s well-known for his art — often whimsical cowboy drawings, scenic western paintings and finely detailed bronze sculptures. His representational artwork depicts the cowboy way of life, describes a historic event as in “The Walker Party” or tells (often with much humor) the colorful tales about round ups, ranching and wrangling in the American West.

Although Phippen didn’t move into Skull Valley until 1949; after he arrived he spent a lot of time at his home/studio, sculpting in bronze and painting in oil and watercolors. But it’s here in Skull Valley he and his wife Louise resided with their family. His son Loren still maintains a home in Skull Valley, splitting his time between here and a home in Scottsdale. So, when Skull Valley Depot guide Ida Downing presented to us the possibility of viewing the private collections of George Phippen and his family, plus meeting Loren Phippen; we knew a chance like this may not come along again.

Phippen Memorial Studio In addition to artwork, the George Phippen Memorial Studio is filled with saddles, books, photographs albums, trophy hunting mounts and equipment, hand-painted Christmas decorations, historical artifacts and many other personal items that once belonged to George Phippen. Because Loren Phippen only on rare occasions makes the studio available to visitors, we felt very fortunate that he opened it up for us. We had a enjoyable visit; we even had the chance to hear a few of the Phippen family anecdotes from Loren — memories of his father as a western artist, family man, and one of Arizona’s most famous figures.

For more information about George Phippen, please visit these sites:

The Phippen Art Museum in Prescott

Sharlot Hall’s Library and Archives

Cowboys and Indians: The Premier Magazine of the West

Cowboy Artists of America

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Phippen's bronze of Wimpy - First Registered American Quarter Horse.

Phippen’s bronze of Wimpy – First Registered American Quarter Horse.

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Cowboy carolers Christmas decor created by George Phippen

Cowboy carolers Christmas decor created by George Phippen

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Man of many symbols: Catholic missionary Father Eusebio Kino

Man of many symbols: Catholic missionary Father Eusebio Kino

The memorial studio holds other memorabilia such as George Phippen's saddles, books and tools

The memorial studio holds other memorabilia such as George Phippen’s saddles, books and tools

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George Phippen's bronzes, oils and watercolors on display in the Skull Valley studio

George Phippen’s bronzes, oils and watercolors on display in the Skull Valley studio

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Arizona road trip to historic Skull Valley

Skull Valley Depot Museum

Skull Valley Depot Museum

Whenever I’d return from a trip to Prescott, friends frequently would remark: “Have you ever gone up the back way? It’s a nice drive up the back way.”

I had no idea what they meant. Which ‘back way?’ There are possibly dozens of ‘back ways’ to Prescott when you consider all the forest service roads, county and state highways and US routes. I’m guessing they mean the ‘front way’ must be the Interstate 17-to-State-Route-69 way, and any alternate route would be the ‘back way.’

For me the back way to Prescott usually was described in two different routes: Route 89 from Wickenburg to Prescott or through Crown King using Senator Highway. The latter  would require a four wheel drive vehicle.

While I was scanning the map looking for other possible ‘back ways’ into Prescott, I found Skull Valley on the map. I’d seen this dot on the state map before but didn’t know about the access or anything about the community. Many times these dots are merely highway junctions with a few houses and cluster of post office boxes.

Our drive to Skull Valley was a gorgeous road trip on this sunny, but a bit blustery Saturday. All roads along this route are paved, but the roadway from Skull Valley to Prescott (Iron Springs Road) currently is under construction. December through March may not the best time to be traveling up the hill to the northwest side of Prescott because of possible snow storms and icy roads. Please check local conditions.

However, if you make the trip, when you arrive at Skull Valley, you’ll think you’ve gone back in time. The center of this community is an intersection: a general store on one corner, a working ‘fillin’ station on another corner, and a hometown diner just across the tracks.

Just steps away from the intersection of Old Skull Valley Road and Iron Springs Road is the Skull Valley Depot, now a museum maintained by the Skull Valley Historical Society.  June through Labor Day, the museum is open Sundays 2 to 4 p.m.  Tours can be arranged by appointment by contacting curator Ida Downing.

The depot building itself was constructed at Cherry Creek near Dewey until 1926 when it was moved to Skull Valley. Trains moved through Skull Valley from 1894 to 1969. It was an important Santa Fe station in Skull Valley, because here the trains had to add engines otherwise they wouldn’t have made it up the steep mountain grade to Iron Springs and on to Prescott. The depot museum exhibits feature antique train and railroad equipment, agricultural tools and other items donated by longtime Skull Valley residents. Adjacent to the depot is the Railroad Section House, where the railway section boss lived. Here, visitors can view more Skull Valley history on display such as a wooden wringer washer, a 1920s kitchen stove and an antique pedal pump organ.

Patio dining at Skull Valley Diner

Patio dining at Skull Valley Diner

We worked up quite an appetite touring the depot museum and section house so we stopped in at the Skull Valley Diner for lunch. Because we had our collie Molly with us, we dined alfresco. By this time the winds had kicked up and the temperature had dropped – quickly. Hot soup, coffee and a cheeseburger never tasted so good.

After lunch we wanted to take a closer look inside the Skull Valley General Store. This place is the real deal. We were impressed to see wood floors, “penny” candy behind the counter, several huge antique glass display cases full of convenience items plus a wood stove crackling away in front of a checkerboard table.  On the walls hung signs for fresh bread, eggs, and other locally made goodies. A large homemade quilt hung on supports, possibly a leftover from the Skull Valley Pie, Ice Cream Social and Quilt Show in October. Plan to spend some browsing time in the general store. Shop for books about cowboys and horse ranching or pick up a souvenir Skull Valley cap.

Another notable feature about Skull Valley is its gas station and garage. On many of our trips along Arizona’s back roads and old highways, we often have encountered some old-style gas stations but the pumps have either been neglected or removed. It’s nice to see folks in Skull Valley have maintained or restored parts of this historic community, whether it’s in the form of a gas station, general store, diner or train depot museum. Skull Valley is a great change of scenery from urban traffic jams and suburban sprawl.

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Read more about the Depot Museum and how Skull Valley got its name.

Next week: a tour of the George Phippen memorial studio and gallery

Skull Valley Diner

Skull Valley Diner

 

Back way to Prescott through Skull Valley

‘Back way’ to Prescott through Skull Valley

Skull Valley General Store

Skull Valley General Store

You can still 'fill 'er up' at Skull Valley Garage

You can still ‘fill ‘er up’ at Skull Valley Garage

Section house was home to the railway section boss

Section house was home to the railway section boss

Amazing variety of goods at Skull Valley General Store

Amazing variety of goods at Skull Valley General Store