The artist C. A. Fries brought his family to California from Waitsfield, Vermont, in 1896. On recommendation of editor Charles Lummis of the Land of Sunshine (subsequently the Out West Magazine), the family secured temporary living quarters at the old Mission San Juan Capistrano, then in complete ruin, the home of rats and bats as well as swallows. Mr. Fries renovated the kitchen to make it habitable; and there the family lived for nearly six months before coming to San Diego.
Shortly after arrival at San Juan, their little girl came down with typhoid. The first Fries baby had died eight years before in New York under similar conditions of great poverty. The second child, little “Allie” now seemed doomed to follow her brother.
The village physician, Dr. Alexander Rowan—;an inveterate “rumhound”—agreed to take care. With great professional poise he stayed sober for six weeks and treated Alice Fries. Surprisingly for those times, he pulled the girl through.
When she had passed the crisis and began to convalesce, the father—on the rebound from depths of despair—conceived the theme of this painting. Mrs. Fries thought the very idea was horrible; she refused to pose for the character of the mother. The only other American lady in town was Mrs. English, in charge at the local post office. She agreed to take the part. Dr. Rowan posed as the old village practitioner.
The painting, one of Mr. Fries’ most famous, now hangs in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C.
Ben F. Dixon
(from TOO LATE, The Picture and the Artist)
*The child, Alice Fries, is Mrs. Alice Fries King, a long-time resident of San Diego and a member of the San Diego History Center.