Laura Purtymun McBride: 'The Lady Junk Collector'
Laura Purtymun McBride was many things. Known as the First Lady of the Sedona Historical Society, she was a delightful storyteller, a successful author, an oral historian, and a founder of the Sedona Historical Society.
The fourth of the nine children of Clara Thompson Purtymun, she was the granddaughter of J. J. Thompson, the original Anglo settler of Oak Creek Canyon. On her father's (Purtymun) side, she was the great granddaughter of Bear Howard. In Sedona genealogy, her "pedigree" was impeccable.
She was born in Oak Creek Canyon in 1910. Laura attended both the one room school in Oak Creek Canyon and later the Red Rock School located in the hamlet of Red Rock near Oak Creek Crossing, just across the creek from Big Park.
In 1924 she embarked on a remarkable journey with members of her family, beautifully recorded in her book Traveling by Tin Lizzie. Just before her 22nd birthday she married Ray McBride and began the unique "rest of her life."
Laura was fascinated by old things: old stories, old people, old gadgets and devices. This was an interest that would continue for her entire life.
When Ray lost his job with the closing of the copper smelter in the late 1930s, they moved up into Oak Creek Canyon and finally moved to the Thompson property just north of where the sand sculpture statues were (taken down about 1997).
Ray built a home there from scrap lumber and tin. The inside of the house was lined with broken down cardboard boxes, and "wallpapered" with newspaper. Eventually they covered the outside of the house with tar paper to provide insulation.
That's when Laura's creativity blossomed. She began building exterior rock walls. She incorporated some unique stones, adding rocks, shells and even broken bottles.
She called herself a junk collector. She would go to garbage heaps to find old bottles and containers. (A small part of her collection can still be seen at the Sedona Heritage Museum.) Broken articles that had sentimental value were given to Laura, rather than thrown away.
Half of a pink poodle, it's in Laura's wall. A piece of china showing the Last Supper, Vietnamese dishes broken in a barroom fight, they .they were all in Laura's walls.
After hundreds of yards of walls filled with interesting "stuff" were built, she began to create walking paths, and rock art...all made from pieces of broken pottery and glass given to her by family and friends.
Rock walls about four feet high wound throughout the property. The homestead even included a Laura-made gold fish pond with a small waterfall, and a little house encased in rock. Some of her creativity must have rubbed off on Ray. He built wind toys and wind chimes from bottles and tin cans and decorated the trees around the house.
Laura was active, energetic and creative until she died in July of 1994. She enjoyed being a junk collector even more than being the First Lady of Sedona.