Virginia Garner, a longtime Idyllwild resident, pioneering documentary photographer, teacher and administrator at Idyllwild Arts, died on Friday in Hemet. She was 93 years old.
Born on March 18, 1915 in Brooklyn, N.Y., “Jinny,” as she was known by everyone, grew up to live a life of adventure that most only dream about. Following her marriage to documentary filmmaker Ray Garner in 1938, the couple made films in many locations around the world, including Africa, Greece and the Near East. In Mexico, the Garners filmed a documentary about the archeological dig at Casas Grandes, where Mrs. Garner served as the expedition’s official photographer. Jinny also assisted her husband in the making of documentaries for NBC television on subjects that included Vincent Van Gogh, U.S. Highway One, the Rio Grande and Northern California’s Muir Woods. An active mountaineer, she was featured in Ray’s film “The Mountain” about climbing in the Grand Teton.
Among their many other adventures were early explorations of Canyon Lands Park in Utah, where they discovered and named Castle Arch. Virginia Park, which Ray named for his wife, can be found on current maps of Canyon Lands Park.
Later, the couple made a film on learning to fly at the U.S. Army air base at Tuskegee, Alabama. Here, they were taught to fly by members of the famed African-American combat unit which came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. In a rare tribute, “Jinny” was made an honorary Tuskegee airman.
Drawn to Idyllwild by Max Krone’s Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, the Garners moved to the Hill in 1966, building a house on Doubleview Drive they called Xanadu.
Continuing their filmmaking careers at the school, the Garners accompanied the ISOMATA Festival Orchestra to Scandinavia in 1965 and made a feature film about the musical tour entitled, “Touches of Sweet Harmony.”
A 1967 film, “Joy in the Making,” documented the school’s summer arts program.
Commenting on their film work for the school, Steve Fraider, current director of the Summer Program and a camp counselor in those early years, said, “The films that Jinny and Ray made were the first attempt by Idyllwild Arts to spread the word about the school and to market itself. The films were unstintingly positive. Jinny and Ray wanted the whole world to know about ISOMATA.”
“Jinny” served as a photography teacher during the summer and later launched the Elderhostel Program on the campus. Referring to the period during which she administered the Conference Center at ISOMATA, a time which saw a high turnover in directors, Dwight “Buzz” Holmes said, “It was an unsteady time and Jinny was the glue that held the campus together.”
Bill Lowman, President of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation was a student in the ISOMATA Festival Choir in 1965 when he first met Jinny Garner. “She was a seminal figure,” remembers Lowman, “and influenced the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. I will always remember her as one of the giants in the history of Idyllwild Arts.”
Gertrude Kleekamp, a former Idyllwild resident who assisted Jinny in getting the Krone Museum ready for its opening in 2001, remembers her energy, “She was totally immersed in every aspect of the campus,” she said.
Along with Bee Krone, her close friend and wife of founder Max Krone, Jinny chronicled the early history of the school in a series of albums which can be seen in the Krone Museum, located on the Idyllwild Arts campus, today.
She was a founding member of the Associates of Idyllwild Arts, and was awarded an Honorary Life Membership in that organization in 2005.
In recognition of her many contributions to the school, Virginia Garner was made Trustee Emeritus of the Board of Governors and Trustees of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation.
Mrs. Garner is survived by her sister, Doris Miller, who lives in Batavia, Ill., two children, daughter Gay MacIntosh, who lives in Lincoln, Calif. and son Chip, who resides in Santa Fe, N.M. She also leaves four grandchildren, David MacIntosh, Laurel Roof, Sean Garner and Kirk Garner, and three great-grandchildren, Sullivan and Davis MacIntosh and Jackson Roof.
The family plans a memorial service to be held at Idyllwild Arts in October.