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Before Our Time: By Robert B. Smith

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With Avery Field’s photography, others saw Idyllwild …
Picture postcards are an ever-popular item in scenic areas such as Idyllwild. We certainly have had our share of commercial photographers, and the most talented was Avery Edwin Field.

A family history just published by his grandson, Sidney Edwin Field, brings Avery’s life (1883-1955) and career into sharper focus, and Idyllwild was a significant part of it.

Field’s day job, assisted by his wife Charlotte, was commercial business photography and portraiture. But an early trip through Northern California instilled a lifelong passion for landscapes, which would find expression in his desert and mountain scenes.

The Fields, both Michigan natives, came to California by chance. Having pursued photography as a hobby through his teen years, Avery graduated in 1906 from Illinois College of Photography, the same school that trained renowned California photographer Edward Weston. After two years in the Grand Rapids area he took a photographer’s assistant job in Chicago.

There one fateful day in 1908 he encountered Mission Inn developer Frank Miller, who was in Chicago with a cousin of Field’s from Riverside. Miller offered him studio space at his new inn if he would move to Riverside.

At 25, Avery wasn’t quite ready for such a dramatic change. Instead, he enrolled to study art at Hillsdale College in Michigan. There he met a young art instructor, painter, sculptor, photographer and former college tennis star, Charlotte Shepard, and they soon married.

The Fields’ honeymoon in 1909 was consumed by moving to Riverside for Avery’s health. On arrival they learned that Miller’s project had stalled, leaving him unable to accommodate a studio. Avery then built a stopgap tent-cabin they called “Stonehenge” near Box Springs — both he and Charlotte were outdoor types — and set about drumming up business. By 1911, with Miller’s help, they opened the Photocraft Shop on Main Street.

In 1920, the Fields discovered Idyllwild. They had just bought property overlooking Palm Springs where Avery built a house that he used when doing work for the date industry. This they sold in 1924, turning their focus to the San Jacintos.

Spending summers here with their two sons, Gaylor and Thyrsis, they bought 6 acres below Tahquitz View Drive and built a cabin. Avery also opened a studio on Ridgeview Drive near the Idyllwild Inn, while Charlotte honed her sculpture skills studying with Idyllwild’s own illustrious teacher, Lora Steere.

Avery befriended the Emerson family, who essentially controlled Idyllwild at the time, and began supplying their Idyllwild Inn with postcards. His postcards continue to circulate among collectors, but unlike most others in the business he refrained from putting his name on them; only their high quality and especially Charlotte’s characteristic lettering identify them.

By 1930, Miller’s fortunes with the Mission Inn improved, allowing him finally to fulfill his promise to Avery. The Fields sold the Idyllwild studio to newly arrived E.B. Gray and returned to Riverside where Avery worked until his 1952 retirement.

His collection of Idyllwild scenes returned home in 2005, when the Field family donated it to the Idyllwild Area Historical Society, which carries selected posters and matted prints in the museum shop.

Bob Smith is a researcher and archivist with the Idyllwild Area Historical Society. He welcomes comments, questions, corrections and suggested topics for this column at rbsmith9@greencafe.com.

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Category: Before Our Time, Life in Idyllwild

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