The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 2001, Volume 47, Number 3
Gregg Hennessey, Editor

Edited by Denny Stone

Portrait of Charles A. Fries' in his studio. Photo #FEP 3034 Charles Fries began to write his memoirs on May 5, 1935 at 80 years old. He entitled them “Memories I have heard, seen, suffered and enjoyed” and he dedicated it to his wife Addie, “in memory of our 48 years together of joy, sorrow, pleasure and hardship.” What followed was the chronicle of a man, the physical and emotional journeys of an artist, and tales of life in San Diego during the early years of the 20th century.

The memoirs are written in a ruled account book. Fries wrote principally on the odd, right hand pages, leaving the left-hand page for “footnotes” – fuller explanations to the main narrative or asides – which occurred to him at the time. For publication we have worked these notes into the body of the text. Both a verbatim transcription and an edited version are deposited with the San Diego Historical Society’s Research Archives, while the original remains with the family of the artist. As we are concerned principally with Fries’ life as an artist and his work in the San Diego region, we have summarized passages from the 132 page manuscript that pertain to his childhood, the genealogies of the Fries, Harper and Davis families, and his life before coming to California.

Fries writes in a very conversational tone addressing the reader, undoubtedly intended to be his wife and daughter. In these familial reminiscences, Fries does not provide specific dates. In fact he only gives two: his wedding to Addie Davis and the death of their first child. Though he did not include them in his memoirs, Fries noted many dates in his catalog inventories.1

What he puts to paper are clearly the important moments of his life, the episodes that remained with him. He recalls numerous painting trips with varied companions, his excursion and misadventures on the road to Yosemite with his family, brushes with poisonous snakes and smugglers, the formative years of San Diego, and the beauty of nature wherever he went. Though his reminiscences have the flavor of the Wild West, they happen in the 1910s and 1920s. When Fries came to San Diego in 1897 he recalled the town had the sleepy atmosphere of a Mexican village. As San Diego grew, so did Fries. Here he matured as an artist and made a living at his art. He traveled to paint, traded paintings for land, and lived simply and happily in a San Diego only a few decades past.

Charles Arthur Fries was born in Hillsborough Ohio, August 14, 1854 the seventh of eleven children. When he was a very young child his family moved to Cincinnati. The family lived at Pleasant Street between 14th and 15th Streets near Washington Park where the young Fries played among the government wagons assembling materials for the Civil War. The family would move on to 12th Street between Race and Vine Streets, and later, Walnut Hills. His childhood seems to have had the usual amount of mishaps. He didn’t enjoy school and recalls seventy years later that “my experiences there causes the cold chills to run up and down my back somewhat I imagine as one would feel passing a penitentiary that they had served a term in.” From his account he felt bullied by other children and by teachers who freely dispensed corporal punishment. He went to Woodward High School for only a year and a half. A confrontation with a teacher who unjustly accused him of cheating was the final straw and the young man did not return to school.

Fries always had “the hankering to draw.” Through the influence of his uncle, a bookkeeper for a local publishing company, Fries obtained an apprenticeship to learn the lithographic trade. His apprenticeship at Gibson and Co. began in 1869 and was to last five years. The first year was worked for free, advancing one dollar per year until the final year when an apprentice could earn five and half dollars per week. There was no established program for instruction. Fries soon realized that what he was doing amounted to a journeyman’s work for a child’s wages. He quit in his fourth year. Though he may have grumbled at the injustice of his wages, Fries clearly learned his trade while working at Gibson and Co. After leaving, he was able to obtain employment with a larger firm, and in a short time was making approximately $25 the week.

While dissatisfied with the apprenticeship, Fries looked for other ways to improve. He took night classes at the recently established McMicken School of Art to refine his skills.2 In 1874, he won a medal at the end of his first term for a large drawing from the Antique entitled The Wrestlers.3 He continued attending painting class three half days per week while still working for the trade. After studying art for a year, Fries had the idea of going abroad to work and study. In 1876 Fries and his companion, Dick Hammond, started for Europe. Their intention was to go to London, obtain a position with a lithography firm, and study in schools in between. Once there, however, they were disenchanted with the English system. They spent most of their money in England and Scotland. Fries proposed that they continue on to Paris, but his companion insisted that they barely had enough money to return home.

Back in Cincinnati, Fries pursued illustration work and developed relationships with his colleagues. Area artists formed the Eccentric Club, an informal social group, and went camping. Fries circle of friends at this time included Charles T. Weber, a prominent figure in Cincinnati art. Fries recalled one day when visiting in his studio Weber offered him this advice, “Charley for Heavens sake don’t be a portrait painter. First you must satisfy yourself, then your sitter and all her sisters, cousins, and aunts.”

During the early 1880s Fries became interested in the “Economic Question.”4 His concern about social injustices and possible solutions began to take shape during a trip to the South. He had purchased a tent and some photographic equipment and was going to tour in the South taking photographs. He spent a prolonged period of time in Trion, Georgia. Here he saw children working twelve hour days in cotton mills and families living eleven to a room in conditions that were no better then sheds. The company controlled the workers, their housing, the prices at the stores and all means of shipping and transportation. Fries recounts:

The experience in this awful cotton factory town changed my whole attitude of mind. Previously I had thought very little along economic lines. [When] I returned home, Henry George had just published his book Progress and Poverty, and I secured a copy.5 Uncle Morris was a very enthusiastic advocate of his theories, but I had to clear the cobwebs of prejudice from my mind before accepting it. I still believe, but looking at it now from the standpoint of Socialist philosophy [I] feel that it is a move in the right direction but that it doesn’t go far enough. The Socialist philosophy, which I accepted 35 years ago, contends that the profit system must be eliminated.

Fries’ economic/philosophical viewpoint enters his memoirs quite frequently. He is appalled to see fruit left out to rot when people are hungry, because it is too costly to ship to other parts of the country. He frequently mentions bartering paintings and services for goods.

Fries’ future wife, Addie Davis, was a friend of his sister Mina and eventually came to board at the Fries home. She was writing for The Voice, a prohibition paper, while Fries was executing newspaper illustrations for the Commercial Gazette. They were married on May 26, 1887. Their relationship seems to have been mutually fulfilling and Fries describes her as his helpmate. Addie was “always encouraging me in my work and never satisfied when I was not working at my chosen profession. I have always felt I could not have accomplished anything in my art without her help. She has been willing to undergo all manner of privation and hardship.” Addie had “weak lungs” and several reminiscences focus on Addie’s delicate and fluctuating state of health. Despite her health, Addie endured the hardships of frequent moving and outlived Fries.

In the fall of 1887, Fries decided to move to New York to try his hand at work for the larger illustrated journals. When he arrived, he showed his portfolio and, like many other artists, had his name taken with the promise that they would inform him if any opportunity should arise. While in Cincinnati he had done some work for Frank Leslie’s whom he felt had treated him in a disrespectful manner. In New York he claimed,

I received a bona fide order from [Leslie’s] for a page illustration for their magazine and they published it. They were remiss about paying for it and when I sent a claim they very coolly answered that I had my signature to it and their rule was that they considered that a sufficient recompense. Imagine the cheek and injustice!

During 1888, his professional life did not look promising and he suffered personal tragedy when his first son, born in March, died on May 9th of malnutrition. In these lean months he did illustrations for a few school books, including Eggleston’s History of the United States, made anatomical drawings for physicians, and painted some portraits. He had received only one order from a “high-class” magazine, the St. Nicholas. Free-lancing, he realized was “a dog’s life.” When a colleague from Cincinnati, then working as the foreman of the art department at Central Lithography Co., offered him a position, he jumped at the opportunity.

Our work at the shop was quite uncertain and the men were always wondering how long they would have work. The busy season was in summer when it was warmest; then we had to work night and day. In winter, in order that they might not be able to get the men when they needed them, they would allow us to soldier on stock work. It was almost altogether theatrical poster work and men who had the necessary art training together with the technical knowledge of lithography were difficult to secure. I sometimes made $50 to $60 a week, pretty good for those days.

The Fries family moved several times around the New York City area. His daughter, Allie, was born in Corona in 1890. Allie suffered the same health problems as the first child but pulled through. The family decided that Addie would take their daughter to Vermont for health reasons, while Fries stayed in town to work. They had purchased a small farm in Waitsfield, Vermont that had been in Addie’s family.6 The farm, about 40 acres, consisted of a two-story house and a barn, a pasture across the road, and meadow and woodland across the Mad River. Fries wished to work long enough in New York City to pay for the farm in full before quitting his job. He proudly noted that he succeeded in doing so. One evening in summer Fries had reached a breaking point. He recalled, “I was nearly overcome [by the heat] as I had rented a stuffy hall bedroom. The next morning not even going back to the shop, I packed my luggage and started for Vermont. I have often wondered what the boys thought had become of me.”

In preparation for a life in Vermont, Fries had subscribed to several farming publications and his neighbors called him a book farmer. “Being [so] dubbed by the neighbors,” he remembered, “I felt compelled to live up to the title and often had to dig potatoes sitting down as my back remonstrated against the work that oft times I was compelled to impose on it. When I traded work with Bill Hazelton, our nearest neighbor, during haying time I realized my deficiency in muscular power and endurance.” Fries came to the realization that it was the country and not farming that he had missed. He admitted that he did as much painting as farming in Vermont.

In late 1895 or early 1896, the Fries barn burned down taking all of their livestock and farming equipment. He had not kept up the insurance and later came to the realization that he was responsible for the fire by placing a barrel of incompletely extinguished ash in the barn. Though neighbors pitched in and erected a new barn, Fries was disheartened. As his wife’s health remained frail, he feared she would not survive another winter. Fries had received some literature from Santa Barbara and he caught the fever to move to California. From here, let Fries continue his story in his own words.

On the 17th September 1896 we started for California against the protests of all the relatives [who] prophesied all sorts of dire results. But we have lived never to regret it.

On arriving at Los Angeles we looked up Charles Lummis being introduced through a mutual friend.7 He was very kind, took us to his home for a few days. He had a wonderful collection of relics valued at thousands of dollars, Indian rugs on the floors, beds, walls and a young couple of Indians to help with the work. He insisted that I go to Capistrano to sketch as he said it was the most typical Mexican town in southern California. We had tickets to Santa Barbara and we decided to go up there and snoop around. The first evening in Santa Barbara I went out and bought a large basket of delicious fruit for 10 cents. Well! We just gasped. Thought we were in the heavenly places when we were only in a mission town. We went up in the Santa Inez Mountains and on up in one or two other counties. At one place we struck a Spanish family on an original grant. They offered all sorts of inducements to have us remain and give their children lessons in Art. [I] could have sold [the Vermont paintings] for good prices here.

Well, we finally went back to Los Angeles and took Mr. Lummis’ advice and went to Capistrano. On arriving we found Arthur Bradley, my brother in law, who had moved here for his health [as he] had bad lungs. He was ensconced in about the only house to be had, a little adobe. We went to the hotel. Finally Mr. Lummis managed to get us located in the old mission. No one had lived there for over twenty years and the dust was knee deep. We used the old dining room to live in and slept in the cloisters. A priest came out every other weekend and had services. He also slept in one of the cloisters. We had hardly been settled when Allie came down with a terrible attack of typhoid fever and lingered at the point of death for days. We employed a nurse from Santa Ana and Dr. Rowan handled her case. Poor old Doctor was a booze fighter, but he handled her case fine and she finally recovered. That incident together with the fact that the old dining room was a most picturesque interior suggested the subject Too Late that I painted.8

One morning I conceived the idea of taking a walk to the mountains but the farther I walked the mountains were or seemed to be still as far off. Finally becoming discouraged I turned back and found that those mountains were about 30 miles distant. Yet the large timbers in that old mission had been brought on the backs of Indians from those same mountains years before.

The Mexicans and Indians wouldn’t come near the Mission, whether it was the fear of spooks or the big white owls that came out every night that roosted over the dining room. I painted a little cattle piece over the river one day. When going to finish this subject I met a typical Gypsy Queen. She had a wonderful costume on. She tried to get me to let her tell my fortune. I offered to allow it if she let me paint a sketch of her, but no. All she could think of was dinero, dinero! I went on and coming to the camp saw young ones almost naked. I sat down to make a sketch of the camp, but she came back and threatened to get her man after me and I believe she destroyed my sketch. After telling him my experience, Old Doc Foster had them run out [of town] as they were, he said, imposing on the people there. What he said went. He was the owner at that time of only 10,000 acres, an original grant that had extended from near Santa Ana to Oceanside. He wasn’t much of a businessman and had a very extravagant family. He told me how when he was boy the Indians attacked the mission and his description would have made a fine picture. I have always been sorry that I didn’t make a record of it.

Pages from Charles A. Fries' sketchbook. Pencil and watercolor on paper, circa 1875. Courtesy of Mrs. Alice Psaute, granddaughter of the artist. After we had been at Capistrano for five or six months I felt I would like a change of scenery. I suggested that we go down to San Diego for a few days. The natives about there scoffed at the idea, having acquired the Los Angeles psychological attitudes as to San Diego and derided the fact of it being worth going down to see. However we did and remain to have never regretted the change.9 It was a quiet little town of about 16,000 people and had that Mexican atmosphere of “Manaña por la Manaña” that appealed to us. At first we lived for a short time on 16th Street. The second place we rented on 16th belonged to Mr. Sherman of Sherman Heights fame one of the early pioneers in that berg. He was a splendid man.

We had a few hundred dollars left and we invested $500 of it in a lot at Middletown, but found it was not a good investment. Had it for years and could not dispose of it. [We] finally did at the same price and in small payments. Addie wanted to invest in La Jolla lots instead. We could have bought lots that are now in the center of that town for $25, now worth thousands. My hindsight has always been much better than my foresight and that was an illustration of it. We made several moves and finally rented an old building on 24th and Logan Avenue. I used the store below for a studio and lived in the upper part of the house. I had my classes there on inclement days. I found of course quite a difficulty in making a living, as there was no commercial work of any kind to do. So had to get up a class and go to teaching which I did for years, but didn’t conduct it on business principals and managed to only exist. Addie started a children’s club and they used to meet in the studio Saturday afternoons.

In my classes were pupils Anne Gough, Mrs. Gowndie and Mr. and Mrs. Boutelle. They were going up to the Yosemite Valley and they persuaded us to go with them. On the way we were to sketch and take lessons. Mr. and Mrs. Boutelle intended going only as far as Pala Mission. They gave us, or at least Addie, a great send off and presented her with a nice fountain pen amid many bouquets and good byes. I had an idea of not coming back if I could find a place where I could make a better living. About the middle of April with four teams, about 3 p.m. we started and camped in Rose Canyon the first night.10

Things did not go as we had planned. Addie was not well, her heart was troubling her and the others were not as congenial as might be with us. The men folk were in a hurry to get on and of course that did not leave any time for sketching and giving lessons to the women folk, so we thought it best to drop out and let them go on, which we did near Pasadena. We camped near Los Angeles during a rainy spell and gave Addie a chance to rest. At Riverside we found tons of beautiful navel oranges dumped out to rot while thousands would have been glad to get them. We filled a couple of gunny sacks and had all we could eat for sometime. Another sample of the impractibility [sic] of this beautiful [economic] system we are living under. Freight rates were so high it didn’t pay to ship them.

We camped one night on the beach between Santa Barbara and Gaviota Pass.11 It was a beautiful moonlight night. The roar of the surf frightened the horses and they strained at their tethers furiously all night. The next morning a tramp asked for some food which we gave him. On arriving at Gaviota Pass and pausing at the store to buy some needed articles and make some inquiries, Addie noticed that same tramp. We had told him we were going to the Yosemite so I imagine he thought we had considerable money with us. There were a large number of men, rough specimens, lounging about. They were engaged by the railroad as they were building the coast line at that time. The only camping spot we could find was two miles or so up the Canyon and the wind there blows a gale every night. During the night, Addie awoke and heard the horses neighing and heard footsteps. She screamed, “Charley get your gun.” She was sure a man was outside just about to stab us. Be that as it may, a man told us the next day there were men there who would cut your throat for two bits. [The next morning], after making a sketch we hurried on towards the back country.

We met an immense herd of wild Texas broadhorn steers driven by about a dozen vaqueros. There were about 1200 in the herd. They drive these cattle down through the pass to ship them on the coast. Our little mare began to kick up and against the advice of the vaqueros I was compelled to get out and stand at her head to keep her quiet which was quite dangerous to do as wild cattle will attack anyone on foot. A bunch started down across the arroyo headed for us, but the vaqueros managed to head them off. There certainly was considerable excitement for a few minutes but we came out whole. When camping one always has plenty of excitement.

In time we arrived at Arroyo Grande where Mr. and Mrs. English lived. Mrs. English had a store and post office in Capistrano when we were there. Mrs. English had taken some lessons of me. She was very glad to see us. I put the horses out to pasture and we were guests at her house. She assembled a class for me and in that way we enlarged the size of our deflated finances. We were there about four or five weeks.

[We] then started for Pacific Grove, just outside of Monterey, as we were informed there was going to be a Chautauqua convention there but we arrived too soon. As hay was a dollar and a half a bale and the horses having enormous appetites after a week or so we decided to go on. While there I made the acquaintance of a young man. He and his sister were running a curio store and he knew of a bed of olive shells. He and I waded out in the early morning and dipped for them up to our waist in ice cold water. It certainly was a freezing job. I finally collected enough shells to make a curtain as they were all the vogue and sold as high as $500. We used our spare time rubbing one end over a file, so they could be strung, but I never used them in that way. While we were in the Yosemite there was a meeting of seven tribes of Indians and they were crazy for them. Addie strung them into wrist and hat bands and in that way reimbursed our finances again.

We passed through mining country and the havoc they had made of the country was terrific – great gullies washed out. On a Saturday afternoon we camped at a mining town. The spring in the wagon had broken and when I finished paying for it, [we] had 50 cents left. Monday morning we went on and towards evening took a road by the advice of a young fellow living near, but learned after it had not been traveled for some time. In descending near a creek the rear wheel went all to pieces. The poison oak was very abundant and Alice and I were badly poisoned. I cut a sapling three or four inches in diameter to bolster up the hind axle. It turned out to be poison oak also. Addie managed to get a man living near on his ranch to help get the wagon down. I helped the man dig his potatoes in exchange for feed for the horses. In a day or so we heard of a very prosperous farmer living not far off, a sort of horse trader. I sold the whole outfit to him for $58 just enough to get back to San Diego on. By that time we were ready to go back. He took everything but my pictures, which he was to ship later, and took us to the nearest station, 30 or 35 miles [away]. We went to Stockton, then by boat to San Francisco, and finally to San Diego by boat. It was crowded. Addie and Allie managed to get a cabin but I had to go deck passage. Weren’t we glad to get back to old San Diego.

[Back in San Diego] I happened to be lucky enough to sell a picture of the bay to the Sect of the Theosophic Society for $100. We then went back to our old quarters on Logan Avenue until Mr. Buck sold it. Then we moved across the street. From there we rented a place on 9th and E and from there went to El Cajon Avenue and 30th were I kept some bees. But before I was through, [I] moved them to a ranch at N. Cholla Mesa [that] I managed to get for taking care of a few trees. I painted several of my best figure pictures about this time.

We had a chance to buy a couple of lots on F Street near 28th, a section we had fallen in love with years before. I had to pay only $80 for them and still have them. About this time U.S. Grant, Jr. offered some property in exchanged for a number of pictures. We picked out a couple near our other lots, F Street between 28th and 29th. I immediately built a little cabin on the back of these lots and we spent one year there in the bush not disturbed by any landlords. We were happy. We had become so sick of moving. We had averaged a move a year since being married and we had enough.

Among the lots traded with Grant was a couple at 14th and L in the wholesale business district. We were wondering what they were worth and decided we would take $1000. I was painting a portrait of Mr. Cleveland, one of the oldest lawyers in San Diego, an old timer and good judge of values, and asked him about it. He advised us to put them on the market for $2500. He guaranteed we would sell them in three months. So it turned out we received cash for them. I used the money in building our house. I made 1200 bricks from what is now the cellar but the material was not the best. I built some of the inside walls with them and the rest of stucco. I built it entirely myself.12 It has made a nice home for us for years, but of course I see where I made mistakes. I believe I could have built it by contract just as cheap, as they saw I was a greenhorn and chiseled me, but still I had the fun.

I have been able to live for the last 25 years on my work and have done little teaching. At times I would go out with one or two [students] so I could work also and not lose my time. I have made a business of going out on trips of ten days or two weeks, once as long as six weeks. I have taken many trips to the desert and have often been called the “Desert Artist.” I will attempt only to describe the highlights as I remember them.13

Not long after settling in San Diego, Ed Davis who had studied art came to see me and we became warm friends.14 He settled and developed a ranch at Mesa Grande when there must have been few whites. The Indians thought a good deal of him and elected him their captain. Ed afterward built a hotel as a summer resort.15 I was invited out to his resort and he gave me the use of one of his tent houses in an oak grove. I believe an oak grove can be one of the darkest places imaginable at night when there is no moon. I was up at the hotel one evening when he was giving an illustrated talk on the Indians. I remained until nearly all had gone to their rooms and then attempting to find my tent, became confused and utterly lost in the dark.

Palm Springs is in the upper part of Coachella Valley and I have painted much the whole length of the valley. The first trip where I was the guest of Mr. Reed was at Coachella, a ranch he was trying to develop. It was far out from all power lines and the discouragement he encountered made him finally give it up. [Once] I accepted his hospitality I had quite a time getting there. I sent him a postal but he had not been to town and didn’t receive it and of course was not there to meet me. I waited about for some time. Finally at the advice of a young man in the store [I] decided to take a short cut. In starting, I stumbled and fell flat over a rabbit fence. I kept on and was heading for some time in the direction I thought right. I finally decided the object I saw was not his house and reaching for my glasses to verify my doubts, found I had no glasses. The wind was blowing and it was quite warm. I retraced my steps but soon found my track covered up and began to get rattled. The feeling of helplessness one feels in such a predicament is not pleasant to say the least. As it began to get dark it cleared up and I could see the line of lights of the different towns and headed towards the lights. When I got back to the town his man happened to be there and we went on out to the ranch. I had a hunch that my glasses dropped where I fell and sure enough there they were protected somewhat by some bushes. I felt I was saved as I could have accomplished very little without them. Ever since I always carry two pair. Mr. Reed was very indignant at the young clerk for giving me the advice he did as he recognized the dangers. Two men in a car were lost in that vicinity a short time before and one of them lost his life.

At one time while painting in Coachella Valley Mr. Reed took me over to Hidden Springs Canyon in the mountains back of Mecca.16 I certainly enjoyed it and we stayed a day or two. It takes its name from a spot rather inaccessible where there is a spring that feeds a clump of palms. Mr. Reed had a candle and by crawling on our stomach for some distance through a natural tunnel we finally came upon an opening much like the interior of a cathedral it was a wonderful effect. At another time he took me to what is called the Painted Canyon in the same range of mountains. There was a formation there that interested me greatly. It was of soft red sandstone and the water had rounded off the tops of huge pillars and it reminded one of the old Egyptian architecture. Mr. Reed afterwards moved to a ranch he owned in or near Indio. It was a beautiful place. The house was built to accommodate quite a number of guests.

I was rather lucky in selling pictures in Coachella Valley. The high school bought one. Coachella Valley is one of my favorite spots in the Desert. I have since camped quite a number of times at Indian Wells. One canvas painted there is in the permanent collection at the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery bought by the College Women’s Club of San Diego and presented to the Gallery. 17 It was the first addition to the permanent collection of local work. On a trip near Indian Wells with a boy from Coronado, an interior decorator, we stopped for a couple of days at Idyllwild. It is an immense resort and has many beautiful residents. The rocks on the mountain range look like snow.

While Guy Woodward and his sister were running Warner Hot Springs I had a standing invitation out there and took advantage of it on many occasions.18 [I] had a chance at one time to get some snow effects, the first I had had since leaving Vermont. I usually camped in one of the old original Indian adobes on what they called Queer Street. I was painting one forenoon just north of the bathhouse when a terrible earthquake shock occurred. I was standing but could scarcely keep my feet by holding on to the easel. It, that is the ground before me, seemed to roll in billows similar to the waves in the ocean. The Indians were not long in getting buckets of adobe (per instructions) to fill up the cracks. There were shocks for two weeks and I lay on my bed at night wondering whether the wall above me would fall the other way or on me. It was the most terrible experience of that sort that I had experienced and it destroyed several towns almost entirely.

Queer Street, Warner Springs, Charles A. Fries, American (1854-1940). Oil on canvas, April-May 1918. Signed LR: C.A. Fries, inscrived in pencil on reverse: #692, 12 x 18 inches. Courtesy of Estelle and Jim Milch. Montezuma is ten or fifteen miles from Warner’s and Mr. Woodward had taken up a claim years previously and had good buildings there. He invited me to go up there to sketch and they brought food over to me from Warner’s. The last time I was out at Montezuma was at the invitation of his sister. Guy Woodward had died and his sister had given up the management of Warner’s.19 I traded some pictures for ten acres of land. While the Woowards were at Warner’s Mrs. Woodward sold quite a number of canvases for me. She was a good salesman.

During the World War, I was invited by Dr. White to Palm Springs. We met at Warner Hot Springs at the time she invited me and shortly after I took advantage of the invitation. I spent about a couple of weeks and worked pretty hard as she let me have a nice cottage and was independent so I could get out early in the morning for the early effects. The Doctor and her sister went out camping in the mountains and invited me. They had all manner of paraphernalia, sleeping bags, pup tents, etc. The sister was a desert rat and could she cook puddings in the sand that were delicious!

I took a trip out there again this winter with Walter Austin.20 It rained three days straight. We had difficulty in getting any quarters but finally the Doctor found a room in one of her cabins with a community bath and kitchen attached. I managed to get some painting done but was feeling far from well.

Mr. Merritt and I have been out camping many times together. He had a comfortable outfit and the trips with him were next door to being at home as far as comfort was concerned. We went down several times on the coast in Lower California.21 It is very beautiful but lower down towards Ensenada it is not so rugged. Another trip on the Lower California coast I enjoyed was with the R. C. Allen Family and friends.22 It was almost like a three-ringed circus compound with other camps. They had a number of tents and an immense tent for dining room, kitchen, etc. The boys had piped water from a spring some distance away. They took turns in giving their help a vacation-some Mexicans, Japanese, etc. They are certainly fine people.

We, that is Mr. Merritt and I, had quite a number of trips in Mason Valley.23 He had taken up a claim there and built a little concrete cabin. Mr. Merritt afterwards sold his cabin for $500. There is a painted canyon about seven miles from Coyote Wells where Mr. Merritt and I went for a couple of weeks.24 We camped in the bottom of a dry wash which was rather risky as cloud bursts are very common. It would have washed us out but fortunately that did not occur. The formation there seemed to be immense stones as big as a house and smaller imbedded in softer material and when it rained would loosen these immense boulders and let them fall. While stretching under those cliffs one could hear occasionally stones dropping which caused one to feel a little uneasy. One canvas I was working one morning caused Merritt to remark, “It looks like a fruit salad.” These subjects are rather freaky and most people prefer not to hang them in their houses. Sometime later I camped alone at Coyote Wells and had an awful fight with the wind.25 When I finally did leave, there was a cloudburst. [It] left two feet of water where I had been camped.

We made quite a number of trips at times up at the Laguna Mountain Resort.26 Mr. Merritt has built a cabin there which was more pleasant than camping out. I’m afraid if a fire should ever get started up there during the summer season there would be a terrible loss of life. One year Frank Thing had some sheep pasturing up there at an old original homestead. He came after me up at Merritt’s cabin and we spent a week or so down at the old homestead and I painted sheep. They make very interesting studies.

Mrs. Rice, Mrs. Summerlin, and I went by invitation of Mrs. Thing to their ranch up on the Laguna Mountains quite difficult to get to.27 Mrs. Thing had been an old pupil of mine previous to her marriage. There is an Indian Reservation adjoining the Thing’s ranch but there are very few Indians there. The Thing Family was large and each boy took up a homestead claim adjoining each other. It makes a ranch about seven miles long. They were in the cattle business and engaged Mexican vaqueros entirely as Frank preferred them to Americans.

Pages from Charles A. Fries' sketchbook. Pencil on paper, circa 1875. Courtesy of Mrs. Alice Psaute, granddaughter of the artist. Sometime ago when cars were not as common as they are today I had an order from old Jim Murray to paint him a canvas of Cuyamaca Lake as he and Fletcher were the principal owners of that supply of water.28 Mr. Harriett who at that time was engineer of the dam drove me out in a Dodge car. I believe we started about eleven a.m. I made a sketch and we were back in San Diego at six p.m. I thought it marvelous at the time. I remember the last time being in a horse stage we were somewhere in the neighborhood of Campo and we passed an auto stage they were trying out. It was stuck. As our stage passed, the driver in a supercilious and pitying voice told us “it would never work.” For some reason it did and I fear unless he learned to drive an auto stage he had to change his means of livelihood.

The Anderson boys had bought a ranch back of Alpine. Ray was an artist. He managed to get us with an old rickety wagon over to an old deserted ranch house belonging to them. The road had not been used for years. The view from there shows the whole watershed of the west Cuyamaca. I decided to paint a large canvas of it. Mr. McKee who was handling my work at the time suggested it and thought he could sell it to the Cuyamaca Club. I built a large easel pounding the uprights in the ground and left it out in the open until it was finished. McKee managed to have it hang in the Cuyamaca Club and received several subscriptions from members. I afterwards exhibited it in the 1915 Exposition where it took a prize.29 I then had it hang in the Library at Russ High School where one of the graduating classes bought it and presented it to the School. Another canvas painted at the same time only smaller was afterward purchased by Ralph Sammy and presented to the Cuyamaca Club. I guess it’s still hanging there.

At one time I did considerable sketching in the neighborhood of Dulzura. Ray Anderson and I rented a cottage at one time. [We] rented a horse and buggy and had many delightful trips. One day we had been sketching at the top of the grade five miles above Dulzura. It was very dusty and not having any way of protecting the canvas when we arrived at our cabin found about an inch of dust covering it. I brushed off all I could possibly and it produced a wonderful fog effect. I still have the canvas; it reminded me very much of effects I had seen in Scotland.

Quite a number of years ago Mrs. Morris and I went to Palomar Mountain for a week or so. I believe it was during her vacation. I camped in a tent and she at the farmhouse. I attempted while there a subject looking down the hill to see if one could possibly give that effect. Mrs. Morris thought I did succeed, but I doubt it. Later on Mrs. Morris was teaching out near Escondido with a very small class and we boarded with a family [who] were living in dire poverty. They had a house full of children and the ranch all run down. They lived mostly on beans.

Enjoyed a very pleasant time for a couple of weeks with our friends the Moores living near Escondido.30 Their residence afterwards burned down and they rebuilt very near the spot. I painted a canvas called Path to the Spring. While there we took a trip over in Moosa Canyon where I painted an evening effect. While there a niece of Mr. Moore came to visit them and as she was much interested in art I gave her several lessons.

Uncle Will Hedrick, Will31, and myself took a trip to the Grand Canyon and had a lovely time.32 One morning I was trying a sketch near the hotel and a young lady said, “You certainly are ambitious.” I agreed. This subject is certainly [an] impossibility. On our trip returning from the Grand Canyon we stopped at Big Bear Lake for a couple of days. It seems they have a cottage on every and all rocks that dare stick their noses out of the water.

One Saturday night Ted Hopkins and I started from the house about nine p.m. and arrived at Kritchet’s place at the foot of Julian Grade.33 We were headed for Split Mountain Canyon. Mr. Kritchet wanted to prospect, Ted was looking for old Indian relics, and I wanted to sketch. We had to build a road much of the way up a riverbed. We had no tent. It was cold and the wind was blowing a gale, we had all sorts of hardships and none of us succeeded in getting what we were after although I did manage to get a couple of sketches.

Mr. Pierce and myself decided to camp and sketch in San Philipi [Felipe] Valley.34 Ted Hopkins took us and we had his make shift tent. We had terrible weather for two nights and days. The clouds seemed to meet over head and fight it out. Winds from the Sea and from the Desert met and had a duel. We were compelled to sleep on the ground and it rained constantly that first night of the storm. It was dark as a pocket and I couldn’t even find the flashlight so we had to grin and bear it. I made some pretty good sketches on that trip, as it was a beautiful spot.

A young pupil took me in a rig to Torrey Pines. We only remained a few days as the weather was inclement. The first night we camped with our beds in a dry wash. As we had no tent, we removed them to higher ground in a spot where the brush was pretty thick. We were just about dozing off when a rattler made known his objections and we hustled out of that quarter. I didn’t retrieve my shoes until the next morning, as I didn’t dare in the dark. Later on I had ten days or two weeks at the caretaker’s quarters which were very comfortable still have some of the canvases painted on that trip.35

Another trip about 30 years or so back, was with an artist friend from Chicago. We went to Mountain Springs and camped up against what seemed to be the wall of an old fort. There were two campers near us and they seemed to resent our getting so near them but finally decided we were harmless. We thought they were smugglers as they went out every evening over the line. They said they had a gem mine over there, but we couldn’t understand why they should go at night. There were some smugglers arrested there shortly after and I presume it was them.

William Pierce, Hobby, myself, and another party camped in a little side canyon at the San Diego River Gorge. There was a beautiful spring there that only we knew of. I painted one canvas by climbing down in the steepest part of the Gorge. Mr. Blandon, a banker who afterwards settled in San Diego, bought it and presented it to the University Club.

I did locate a homestead claim at the foot of the Little Tecate Peak.36 I had been visiting and sketching in Bee Canyon where an old friend had a bee ranch. [The ranch] was in a very deep canyon and he had built a trail from the road and he persuaded me to take up this claim. I managed to get about $50 worth of lumber on the spot and went out a number of times to fulfill my obligations as a claimant, but finally gave it up as a wild dream. Addie was not strong enough to live such a life and I knew I couldn’t prove upon my claim without lying like a house a fire as many did. I afterwards turned it over to the Forest Reserve.

Some years ago I went up to San Francisco with the idea of sketching the surrounding country. I went over to Tamalpais Mountain and made a sketch of Muir Woods (red woods) from there. I put up at the Inn on the Mountain run by an old German. It was at the time we were voting to decide whether the women should be allowed to vote.37 Wasn’t that old German incensed! He had the idea that [a] women’s place was a slave in the home. I then rented a tent on the ocean side of the mountain and sketched there for a week or more.

There is one trip I neglected to speak of. Mr. Harry McKee was practicing law out at Fresno where he had migrated after his sad experiences in [the] free speech fight here in San Diego which was a disgrace to the city.38 While there we took a short trip out in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The first and only time I have been in that range. [I] have always had a great desire to sketch in the High Sierras. One is required to have pack animals and it means much hardship. I guess I will never be equal to it.

[I have been] offered many times an exchange of mining stock for pictures. Having been inoculated somewhat with the gambling spirit, and as it did not involve any cash outlay, [I] was tempted to invest, which I did. My first investment was for some stock from George R. Garrett with whom I had every confidence. The mine was out in Arizona somewhere but as they did not succeed in financing it did not amount to any thing. My next investment along that line was stock in the Silverado Mine in Orange County, California. It was very rich ore and had been worked years before financed by some Los Angeles banks and apparently had been a regular steal as they had immense salaries paid to Mexican labor and in that way managed to balance their books. This company took over the property and I went out while they were working on it. A great deal of work evidently had been accomplished. I was out there two or three weeks. Most of the men were working in exchange for stock. Shortly after there was a storm that washed out all their roads and as they were short on finances it was a body blow.

I had invested in another mine owned by the same company, the 29 Palms. 29 Palms is about 30 or 40 miles east of Palm Springs, about three or four thousand feet high, and it was quite cold in the mornings and evenings. The wash basin in the mornings, that is the water, would be frozen solid. I was there several weeks. It has the only water for miles, in the shape of a beautiful spring. It had been an Indian Reservation, but through some shenanigan of the law, the Southern Pacific Railroad acquired it and drove the Indians off. The Indians were so incensed that they hacked many of the trees. One could scarcely blame them. Only one instance of the many injustices towards the Indians. Several years ago Will and I camped at the bottom of the canyon on the way to 29 Palms.39

I have managed for a number of years to live on the sales I have made and consequently was relieved from seeking remuneration from other quarters such as raising poultry, teaching, raising rabbits, raising bees for honey and many other attempts which usually proved futile. The last few years of this terrible depression when sales are scarce we have been compelled to live largely on what little we have saved in the years when pictures were more in demand. These camping trips represent many hardships, interspersed with much pleasure. Many are the trips I have made in and about San Diego, and summing it all up, we consider ourselves lucky.

Charles Arthur Fries died on December 15, 1940. He left a legacy of almost 1700 paintings that recorded his experiences in the San Diego region and his artistic vision of nature.




1. Fries left four catalogs that list his California production by number, title, disposition and price. He occasionally will note media when it differs from oil painting. Fries appears to catalog his paintings after the fact, possibly going out on a trip, coming home with the results, then titling and numbering them upon his return. Catalog 1 is not necessarily in chronological order. The first 250 to 280 entries appear to have been recorded in one sitting. This first group of paintings included works identified as painted in 1896, 1898, and 1901. The earliest sold date within this group is 1909. During the 1920s he recorded more about where he went before cataloging the paintings. In the 1930s he began to more frequently assign dates to individual works, as well as catalog older paintings still in his possession. The last painting recorded in his hand is #1669. Four additional notebooks kept by his wife and family recorded the exhibition and disposition of works after his death.

2. “In 1869 Chas. T. Weber (1825-1911) secured permission to use the casts and paintings for a class in art, and thus established the McMicken School of Design, now the Cincinnati Art Academy. The Art Academy is an outgrowth of the old School of Design, a branch of McMicken Univ. Excepting an initiation fee of $10, the institution is free.” Ben Dixon, Too Late (Private publication, 1969), 19, quoting Ohio Guide, (n.d), 128. Dixon was a biographer of Fries.

3. The prize is in the shape of a palette with brushes. It is inscribed recto: “School of Design of the University of Cincinnati founded Jan 1869.” Verso: “Charles A. Fries 1st Prize, Night Class, 1874.”

4. Ben Dixon, ibid., 14. Dixon places this trip in 1884.

5. Progress and Poverty was published in 1879.

6. Waitsfield is approximately 20 miles southwest of Montpelier, VT.

7. Lummis was the editor of Sunshine magazine, later called Out West. He was a significant booster of California and encouraged others to migrate to the state.

8. Too Late, painted in 1896, depicts a grieving mother prostrate over the recently deceased body of a young girl. A doctor, bag in hand, stands just inside the doorway. The painting was widely displayed by Fries throughout his career. It is in the collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

9. Fries and his family arrived in San Diego in 1897.

10. Addie kept a journal of the wagon journey to Yosemite. They left San Diego on April 3, 1901 and returned in the middle of September 1901. At the end of her journal she totals the cost of their camping outfit, including horses, wagon, tent, stoves, feed, etc. to $86.45. Her final line reads, “I never want to leave San Diego again, as long as I live.” Throughout their married life Fries would continue to take extended trips to paint, but Addie is never recorded as being a traveling companion. A transcription of her journal, typed by her daughter, Allie, is on file in the Historical Society’s Research Archives.

11. In Santa Barbara County, the city of Gaviota is 32 miles north of Santa Barbara. Gaviota Pass is in the Santa Ynez Mountains.

12. The Fries home at 2876 F Street, called “Ivy Lodge,” was completed in 1907.

13. By cross-referencing Fries’ catalog with his remebrances, we are able to assign dates to many reminiscenses of his trips.

14. Edward H. Davis (1862-1951) was an amateur anthropologist who did field work among the Native American tribes of Southern California and the Southwest. The Edward H. Davis Collection is held by the San Diego History Center Research Archives.

15. Davis built Powam Lodge in 1915. It burned down in 1930.

16. In Riverside County, north of Salton Sea, the Mecca Hills.

17. The San Diego Fine Arts Gallery is now the San Diego Museum of Art.

18. The first trip location recorded in Fries’ catalog is his trip to Warner’s Hot Springs and Pine Hills in April-May 1918 which precedes painting #576, Queer Street from No. 19 and 20. Fries’ catalog also notes these other trips: “June 11, 1923 went to Warner’s Hot Springs and Montezuma Valley” that preceded painting #1040, A Gateway to the Desert, and “Nov 14, 1926 went to Warner’s Hot Springs for 2 weeks” that preceded painting #1302, Path to the Cold Springs, Warner’s.

19. This trip probably dates to April 6 1931. His catalog notes “Went with Mrs. Woodward to Montezuma.” This comment appears before the entry for painting #1453, Beginning of the Trail.

20. The trip began on December 12, 1934. He remarked, “Went with Walter Austin to Palm Springs. 3 days in rain. Was gone a week.” This comment appears before the entry for painting #1572, Sand Dunes in the Desert. Fries was 80 years old when he made this painting trip.

21. Fries visited Lower California several times with several different companions. Painting #1038, Rocks on the Coast of Lower California, 25 miles below the line is dated June 3, 1923. Additional entries that mention Lower California include: “Sep 19, 1929 started for Lower California with Merritt and Lindeman. Was gone 6 days” before painting #1384, A Foggy Morning and “Aug 4, 1927. Went to Tapiti Beach (Lower California) with Merritt for 10 days.”

22. Fries went with the Allens on two different trips. The first, noted before painting #1027, was from August 18-24, 1923 where he joined the R.C. Allen’s camp ten miles below the Mexican line. The second trip was in September of 1926 and this entry appears before the entry for painting #1287, Fishing in the Lagoon.

23. Mason Valley lies 45 miles southeast of San Diego. Fries catalog lists numerous trips to the area with Merritt. “April 26, 1923. Went to Masons Valley with Mr. Merritt. Gone 2 weeks” appears before painting #1017, Laguna Mountains from Mason Valley. “Dec 8, 1923. Started for Masons Valley with Merritt 10 days” is entered before painting #1089, Where the Oakatilla Grows. “Feb 19, 1924. Went to Masons Valley with Merritt was gone 11 days” precedes painting #1097, Silent Places. “Jan 16, 1925 went to Masons Valley for a week” entered before painting #1155, Early Morning on the Desert. “May 3, 1932 went with Mr. Merritt to Mason Valley was gone 8 days” that appeared before painting #1499, Oakatilla.

24. Fries catalog mentions Coyote Wells twice, once in conjunction with Painted Canon. This two week painting trip began on April 7, 1927. The first painting from this trip was #1314, Early Morn.

25. An entry where he does not mention a traveling companion: “Coyote Wells April 1920 1 week, 2 days.” appears before the entry for painting #749, Light of the Morning.

26. Fries’ catalog notes four specific trips to the Laguna Mountains. The first trip from October 9-10, was with the Craigs, Lacy’s and Darcy’s, and proceeds painting #787, Among the Pines at Laguna Mountains. “Went to the Lagunas with Mr. Merritt June 29, 1924” which appears before the entry for painting #1124, Pines at Laguna Mountains. “Went to Laguna Mountains Sep 12, 1924 for 13 days” entered before painting #1143, Foot of the Trail to Monument Peak. “June 5 1928 went to Laguna Mt. Resort with Merritt for 11 days” entered before painting #1353, Garnett Peak.

27. Fries notes the Things three times in his catalog. On July 6, 1922 Fries went on a 10-day trip to the Thing’s valley. The first painting listed from this trip was #953, Oaks. Fries goes again a year later on July 8, 1923 and was gone for two weeks. Painting #1050, Brook in the Meadow, began that session’s production. Lastly, Fries noted “Aug 20, 1925 went to Thing’s Sheep Ranch at the Lagunas” before painting #1170, Chopping Wood.

28. Murray and Ed Fletcher were early water developers in the region.

29. Fries took a Silver Medal in the Painting category of the Panama-California International Exposition in 1915. He exhibited several works at the Exposition; the painting he refers to here is Cuyamaca Mountain. It hung on the Mezzanine Floor of the Southern California Building in the Fine Arts Exhibition.

30. This trip lasted from October 25 – November 9, 1925. The first painting after this trip was #1193, Evening.

31. Fries’ son-in-law. Allie married William R. King December 31, 1920. They had two daughters, Alice Frances and Dorothy Adelaide.

32. Fries’ catalog noted: “May 15, 1926 Started for Grand Canyon with Will and Uncle. Arrived home 3 weeks later.” This comment appears before the entry for painting #1250, Morning Effect Below Yuma and Phoenix.

33. Fries’ catalog included expanded commentary for this trip. “November 16 1928 started from home with Ted Hopkins at 8 p.m. Slept at Krichet’s at the foot of Banner Grade driving there about 11 p.m. Next morning all three started for the desert to Split Mountain Canyon. Nearly froze had no tent came back home in 4 days.” This comment appears before the entry for painting #1357.

34. The San Felipe Valley is northeast of Julian, north of Anza-Borrego. Fries’ catalog noted: “April 6 [1929] went to San Philipe Valley with Pierce, Ted Hopkins took us out. Camped about 11/2 miles beyond foot of Banner Grade was gone two week and 2 days. Very rough trip.” This comment appears before the entry for painting #1361, From Heights to Heights..

35. Fries’ catalog mentions a single trip to Torrey Pines for a prolonged period of time: “Went to Torrey Pines Aug 23, 1921 for 8 days.” This remark precedes the entry for the pastel #848, Old Road at Torrey Pines.

36. Southwest of Dulzura and Engineer Springs.

37. California voted on women’s suffrage in October 1911.

38. Dixon comments on this episode in Too Late. The “Wobblies,” Industrial Workers of the World, came to San Diego to attempt to unionize labor. In response, the City Council passed an ordinance that limited the rights of free speech on January 8, 1912. There were only an estimated 50 Wobblies in San Diego, but 5000 citizen rose up against the Ordinance limiting freedom of speech. A mob of vigilantes rounded up several hundred of the objectors who were beaten, tarred and feathered, and made to run the gauntlet. One Wobbly was kicked to death in his cell, another was shot.

39. Fries started for 29 Palms on December 28, 1925 and stayed for three weeks. The first painting from this trip was #1208, Cabin in the Desert.

Fries’ works in this issue of the Journal


Denny Stone, the exhibition’s co-curator, is the Curator of Costumes and Textiles at the San Diego History Center. She holds a Master of Arts from State University of New York-F.I.T.. Her recent exhibition for the San Diego History Center, Elegant Fantasy: The Jewelry of Arline Fisch, is currently on a national tour.