Gilbert Louis Baldwin had a knack for taking images that were meaningful to him and remarkably riveting to others.
The self-taught photographer, whose work revealed his passion for nature, landscape and portraits, died Sept. 19 at Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville a month after he was diagnosed with cancer, his sister Faye McCloud said. He was 69.
“He was very compassionate toward others,” said McCloud, of Miami. “He had a real appreciation for nature, for life, for the beauty in this world and much of it he was able to capture in his photography.”
Known as “Gil” to family and friends, Baldwin was born in Belle Glade, Fla., and moved to Milwaukee with his parents, where he graduated from high school. He grew up attending Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, and the Baldwin family quickly established strong roots in Milwaukee, pioneering racial integration.
The eldest of seven siblings, Baldwin showed an early interest in photography, writing, playing saxophone and acting. After high school, he got a full scholarship to Macalester College, where he studied sociology and English. With his sights set on a career in writing, Baldwin contacted George Schlatter, a renowned comedy producer and director best known for his work in “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” who urged Baldwin to move to Los Angeles. Baldwin did, but returned to Minnesota soon after, making a name for himself as a businessman.
In 1983, he founded Columbia Precision Machine Corp., a machining company that manufactures small- and medium-sized custom parts for aerospace and defense projects in Burnsville. Baldwin often extolled the virtues of seeing more women and minorities in industry because “I think it gives it a different flavor and … a different outlook on how to approach problem solving.” To achieve that, Baldwin mentored young people of color to become business owners and entrepreneurs, said Lynn McWatt, who knew Baldwin for many years.
He earned accolades for his tireless community work. He sat on many boards, including Junior Achievement, Metropolitan Economic Development Association, and North Central Minority Supplier Development Council. Besides photography, Baldwin was an avid sports fan and reader who relished dancing, boating and hiking.
In TPT’s “Capture Minnesota,” Baldwin wrote that his passion for the arts helped him discover a “great family and also a resource and inspiration.” Earlier this year, Baldwin’s work was included in an exhibit of black photographers in downtown Minneapolis.
“Gilbert was an exceptional businessman, entrepreneur and artistic photographer,” Dr. Charles Crutchfield, a board member of Minnesota’s Black Community Project, which hosted the exhibit, wrote in an e-mail. “His work was spectacular and praised by all.”
Suzanne Erickson, owner of Jungle Red Salon Spa Gallery in Minneapolis, said Baldwin volunteered to take pictures for the salon’s monthly art shows and its annual fundraiser for Avenues for Homeless Youth, a local nonprofit that helps homeless teens. Even when an illness kept him home this year, she said, Baldwin donated $500 to the cause.
“He was very kind and always fun to be around and very generous with his talents and very giving, too,” Erickson said. “He’s going to be missed by lots of people.”
Baldwin was preceded in death by his parents, George Baldwin and Marie Baldwin, and his brothers Kevin, Gary and Kenneth. In addition to his sister, he is survived by his brothers Anthony, of Atlanta, and Jason, of Florida. Services have been held.