February 19, 2015
In Memoriam: I. Wilson Baker
(January 27, 1950 - January 25, 2015)
A tribute to our longtime friend and contributing photographer, who passed away last month
Written by Sandy Lang
He sure could fry up fish and make a great gin and tonic. Wilson Baker was born in Sumter, but he seemed to be related to almost everyone in Charleston. And he could relate to anyone. He’d make you smile and feel good about whatever experience or idea you told him. “That’s cool,” he’d say. It was the way he pronounced words with an extra kick; you can’t forget his voice if you ever heard it.
One of his most memorable photo essays for Charleston magazine was a series of salty, human portraits of Lowcountry watermen, such as crabber Todd Bonney out on the Wando River on a crisp autumn morning. Water. We practically only saw Wilson near it, on it, or talking about it. He and his wife, Dawn Edwards Baker, built a handsome house on a creek in Awendaw with wide porches and a long dock. They watched for painted buntings, bluebirds, and woodpeckers. Wilson would tie flies and take to the flats. He was always chasing redfish and tarpon.
Getting invited to their house for dinner meant terrific food, icy drinks, and plenty of music and conversation that inevitably lasted too late for some guests to drive home. At the Bakers, you were welcome to stay, and often there would be a big breakfast, too, the next day. Dawn, by the way, is an excellent cook and won an award in a Charleston magazine contest a few years ago for her clam chowder. (The recipe was one she’d created when Wilson returned from a photo shoot with a bag of McClellanville clams.)
Wilson and Dawn sometimes spent weekends at the Baker family’s cottage on Lake Marion. Among the first on the lake’s shore, it was built by his father, Fred Rutledge Baker, Jr. The couple would bring their young son, Thomas (now 10), and cruise the lake on a pontoon boat. Wilson often talked of a dream to catch a giant, elusive catfish up there.
We all sat on their porch again on Christmas Eve—just this past December—and when Dawn brought out a tray of ham sandwiches, Wilson ate more than anyone else. He talked about how fast time passes, and about some of his dreams for his children (Thomas, as well as his two grown sons, Wilson and Rutledge). And he kept us laughing, too. “I always got the Dilly,” he said, about a meal deal he used to order at the long-closed Piccadilly Cafeteria. I wish you could hear him say “Dilly” and “Zaxby’s” and the other places he mentioned.
When there were no more treatments left to try, Dawn made sure that Wilson wasn’t at a hospital, but near the big fireplace and creek views at their home, surrounded by people who loved him. Two days after his passing, on January 27th—what would have been this wonderful photographer and friend’s 65th birthday—dozens more colleagues and friends gathered with the family to celebrate Wilson’s life at a service at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, on the Cooper River and about a mile from his longtime photo studio on Morrison Drive. One of Wilson’s grandmothers, Hazel Middleton Baker, is also buried there. That evening, Dawn opened their house to visitors, with a G&T bar, of course, and everyone sharing stories and laughter by the water again—because of Wilson Baker.
To see a gallery of some of Wilson’s photographs featured in Charleston magazine over the years, click here.
To read Wilson’s obituary, click here.