Charles Craig Dawson, 85, of Virginia Beach, VA (formally of New Jersey, Dallas TX, Aspen, Crested Butte and Hotchkiss, CO), passed away April 22, 2009 in his Virginia home after a lengthy illness.
Craig, as he was called throughout his life, was born on March 10, 1924 in New Jersey to Louis and Harriet (Smith) Dawson. He attended private high school in New York City, after which he enlisted in the nascent 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, spent the winter of 1943/1944 at Camp Hale in Colorado and left the service soon after that due to illness and other circumstances involving a youthful bout of poor decision making.
After WWII Craig attended trade school for the building trades, and worked on-and-off in the building industry for many years.
He married Patricia Pillsbury Dawson on April 14, 1950 in Mountain Lakes New Jersey, and subsequently lived in Boonton, New Jersey. In his early years in New Jersey, Craig was involved in automobile racing as well as camping and backpacking in the Adirondack Mountains. Craig moved his family to Dallas, Texas in 1957, where he worked in sales for developer Fox & Jacobs, and after that in a homebuilding partnership with Pat Howell.
While Craig’s family was living in Dallas, a close family friend, George Parry, had moved to Aspen, Colorado and was part owner of the Crestahaus Lodge in the early 1960s, and in 1965 purchased the the town’s first modern laundromat, Whale of a Wash on Main Street, which George managed for many years. George encouraged Craig to visit Aspen, and Craig subsequently spent several summers in the Aspen area with his young sons, camping, hiking and fishing. This led to Craig purchasing land three miles up the Castle Creek Valley from Aspen, where during the summer of 1964 he and George built a hand hewn bridge across Castle Creek to access his land.
Craig then moved the whole Dawson family to Aspen during the summer of 1965. During that summer George Perry and Craig, along with the help of his older sons as well as highschool student Chris Landry, built a house on the Castle Creek property. Craig and Patricia enrolled their children in the Aspen schools, and immediately geared up for mountain activities such as skiing, hiking, and 4-wheeling in the green 1947 Willys Jeep he’d trailered up from Texas.
Throughout his life, Craig had always been fond of the Jack Kerouac era “beats,” or “beatnicks” as they came to be known, and fancied himself as somewhat of one himself. In that vein, he wore a full beard most of his years – or at least a pair of kingly mutton-chop sideburns. One of the family’s most amusing memories (and one of Craig’s proudest) was the time when Aspen restaurateur Guido Meyer kicked Craig and his beard out of his establishment for violating his “No Beatnicks Allowed” window sign. “Hey,” said dad with a grin, “I just wanted a cup of coffee!”
His first wife Patricia tells of when Craig was courting her in 1949, she drove to NYC dressed in her “flowered frock, from Mountain Lakes New Jersey, to meet Craig in NYC to hear Jack Kerouac read. Everyone was dressed in black beatnick style, and I remember sticking out like a sore thumb in that dress, which I’d gotten from my job working at Lord and Taylor.”
With his affection for the beats, when the hippy movement hit Aspen full force in the 1960s Craig placed himself in the thick of it, (along with his wife and sons). The family had subsequently moved from Castle Creek and built a home a mile from downtown Aspen up Highway 82 towards Independence Pass, which they converted to an ersatz boarding house that was known amongst the hippy cognoscenti as “the” place for family values – hippy style. As proof, the first thing you noticed upon entering was an adult swingset in the two-story tall entryway garden area, and beyond that a killer stereo system that was usually playing Cream or Hendrix at full volume or above. A number of notables lived in the Dawson house, among them Hank Barlow, who went on to found Mountain Bike Magazine.
An interesting episode in the Dawson house was when it was used as the location for a town meeting by the famed Hunter Thompson for sheriff campaign in 1970. Patricia remembers “Hunter arriving with his entourage, hauling a half dozen cases of beer, he sat on that crazy swing in our entryway for a while as he held court.” The Aspen Times newspaper reported that the meeting was held at the “notorious Dawson house, with a Jeep on its side and an American Flag hanging upside down beside the door.”
The Dawson house was also a gathering place for a group of late 1960s and early 1970s Aspen teenagers and young adults, who were friends of Craig’s older sons Louis, Craig and Tapley, with youngest son Tom there as well.
Lou went on to become a noted mountaineer, and many of his early climbing and backcountry ski trips began at the Dawson house with the likes of his brother Craig (Jr.), along with Aspenites Steve Kentz, Robert Pimentel, Hank Barlow, Michael Kennedy, and many others.
During this same period, young Craig began a lifelong career in music with a basement band and set of conga drums supplied by Craig Sr.
Tapley, second to youngest, developed a strong creative side that led to a lengthy stint as a videographer and subsequently as a talented remodel contractor.
Tomas, the youngest, was influenced by the mountain lifestyle the family enjoyed, and to this day is an avid 4-wheeler and hiker who enjoys exploring the nooks and crannies of the west, just as he did with his father Craig in that green Willys Jeep.
While in Aspen, in May of 1969 Craig and business partner Philip Holstein opened the areas first automated color photo processing lab. Aspen ColorLab operated for several years, and for a short period provided materials and processing to the famed Center of the Eye photo workshop. During this period Craig also provided on-slope photography services for a season at Aspen Highlands, using Aspen ColorLab to provide next morning proofs and quick prints for Highlands skiers.
Craig was drawn to Aspen’s rowdy 1960s night life, and spent many late evenings photographing local bands such as the Aspen debut of Black Pearl, one of the three bands that Rolling Stone magazine music critic Lester Bangs used as examples of the first heavy metal bands coming from the “primordial tar pits of 1968.” Craig’s band photos were published locally, but sadly, all the original material is lost. Black Perl’s drummer Oakie; website here.
Craig and his wife Patricia ended their marriage in 1972. They sold the Highway 82 house, and both ended up separately moving to Crested Butte, Colorado (a typical move at the time for individuals who thought Aspen was becoming too gentrified). There Craig rented a home. For work he hand crafted and sold custom jewelry, and for a period of time was in business doing so with his son Tapley. After several years in Crested Butte, Craig bought land on the west side of Kebler Pass, where he and his son Craig Jr. hand built a log cabin using chain saws and a truck bumper mounted A-frame lift. The cabin is still standing. Around 1976, Craig moved farther west to Hotchkiss, Colorado where he bought a beautiful property on top of one of the area’s many small mesas.
Craig and met his second wife Lee Byrd Dawson during the late 1970s at Molly’s Café in Hotchkiss, where she worked as a waitress. The pair were instant friends, and after a couple of years became lovers, lived together for almost a decade, and were married in 1988. The couple lived atop their Hotchkiss “mesa” for nearly 30 years, and moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia in 2006, where Lee’s daughter (from a previous relationship) and grandchild were (and still are) living.
While a man of many careers and talents, throughout his life Craig viewed his main avocation as photography. As a business his photography never flourished, but his devotion to the beauty of form and light rubbed off on all his sons, who at one time or another have operated in the creative arena as writers, musicians – and photographers.
Craig is survived by his wife Lee Byrd Dawson, step-daughter Erica Scott of Va Beach, four sons, Louis Dawson of Carbondale, CO, Craig Dawson Jr. and Tapley Dawson, both of Novato, CA and Tomas Dawson of Colorado Springs, CO and ten grandchildren. He is also survived by his former wife and mother of his sons, Patricia Dawson. He was predeceased by his biological mother Harriet Smith Dawson, step-mother Elizabeth “Bobby” Dawson and his father Louis Welton Dawson.
A small funeral was held in Virginia Beach.