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Almost four decades ago, artist couple Michael Kahn and Leda Livant Kahn came to Cornville and created what would become a three-acre hand-built art village — Eliphante.

The structures — originally intended to be the couple’s home — incorporate recycled materials and elements from the land. The labyrinthian dwellings along the banks of Oak Creek give off characteristics of storybook surrealism.
The couple worked on the installation until Kahn’s death in 2007. Livant felt it best to pass on the project to another bohemian couple.

Today, Tracy Schinagel and Ryan Matson are caregivers of the installation. They’ve lived on the land since 2010 and have made the Eliphante their home while keeping the original integrity of Kahn and Livant’s vision. Although they aren’t a couple anymore, the two still share a special kind of admiration for Eliphante, which allows them to coexist along with their two goats, Anika and Zoya.

Mostly, they’re just trying to keep up with the rate of decay and maintain the art structures that have become dilapidated over the years.
“Some of the structures need support beams,” Schinagel said. “We are currently seeking grants and support.”

The caregivers do a lot on their own to maintain the installations, which in a lot of ways is a full-time job. Most of the maintenance they’ve done has been self-taught, keeping up with the DIY philosophy of Eliphante.

“Ryan is skilled in YouTube University,” Schinagel said.

The first structure built by Kahn, “Eliphante,” was named after its likeness of an elephant. Inside, stained glass windows taken from the old Cottonwood children’s hospital emit bold colors enhanced by the afternoon sun. An area for a loft and stove show the original intent of it becoming a livable place.

“They thought they were going to live in it, but it became more like an art temple,” Schinagel said. “It was like a 3-D painting ... his first experiment. He had no experience in contracting or building.”

Michael began the multipurpose sculpture in 1979 and finished it in 1984.

“They carried all the rocks from the hillside to build it,” Schinagel said. “All the materials either came from the land, or were repurposed from something else. The pottery inside came from Northern Arizona University.”

The other walk-in sculptures show a progression in both artistic and architectural skill. “Pipe Dreams” is a womb-like labyrinth that used to store all of Michael’s paintings. Today, it’s mostly used for music gatherings.

The “Hippodome” arguably shows the most progress with mosaic tiles decorating the walls and a custom-built kitchen counter. The dwelling has two sleeping areas, one on the ground and another one elevated for cold nights. It also includes a small washing area in the center of the space.

A true Cornville hidden gem, the village is currently closed off from the general public. An appointment has to be made just to see the art because it’s located on private property.

That’s something caregivers would like to change, Schinagel said. But the challenge is making it accessible.

We need special-use permits to make it commercial,” she said. “Because of zoning, we can’t advertise or tell the public to come here. This is a conversation we’ve been having with [Yavapai County]... but they’ve been very open and cooperative.”

The couple has also been working on cultivating an online audience, which Matson has taken the reins on.

“I have past experience with online branding and marketing and have been able to use it here,” he said.

Artist-in-residence Julia Kartman also lives on the property but isn’t a caregiver like Matson and Schinagel. She’ll occasionally help with repairs to knock a few dollars off her rent.

A third-grade teacher at Desert Star Community School, Kartman said there is a spiritual presence that has been tapped into at Eliphante.

“People who come here are awkward,” she said. “There’s something magical about the land. It makes you ask, ‘How did humans do this?’”

To learn more about Eliphante, visit eliphante.com.

For more photos of Eliphante, visit http://www.journalaz.com/2017-02-07-18-51-46/21475-eliphante.html or CLICK HERE.


Kelcie Grega can be reached at 634-8551, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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