If the walls of Wynwood’s Bakehouse Art Complex could talk, they would probably speak of 67-year-old Joe Gedeon, the Haitian-born carpenter who has worked there for more than three decades.
“I don’t remember exactly when I started working here,” Gedeon said. “I was 33 or 34, something like that.”
Gedeon was first hired as a handyman at the Wynwood bakery that would become Bakehouse in the late 1970s. But because he stayed when the facility was converted, Gedeon is inextricably tied to the legacy of the complex, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary on Friday.
“He came with the building,” Helene Pancoast, a founding member of the Bakehouse, said. “He was just there.”
Give him the chance and Gedeon will talk visitors through the halls of the two-story building, pointing out walls that didn’t always exist and explaining how trucks would load flour into the bakery years before Wynwood became Miami’s art district.
Gedeon is fascinated by machinery so much that it appears he is unaffected by the paintings and installations at the Bakehouse, 561 NW 32nd St. But Vivian Rodriguez, the Bakehouse’s first director, said that doesn’t matter.
“It’s an unlikely relationship. He’s certainly not an artist himself, but he loves the artists and they love him right back,” she said. “I’ve never heard him talk down about a piece of art. I think he respects the work and the spirit of what the Bakehouse is about.”
The Bakehouse Art Complex was purchased for $225,000 in 1985 after members of a Coconut Grove artist collective lost their studios to a parking lot. Doors opened to the 33,000-square-foot facility, formerly home to the American Bakeries Company, on Feb. 1, 1987.
Gedeon was there for it all, Rodriguez said.
“Joe was my employee — my one and only. [He] was very critical in those early days when funding was really scarce. Joe was willing to do whatever needed to be done,” she said.
The building had been abandoned for nearly a decade, but Gedeon said he worked to make repairs and erect walls.
“Everything was broken down. I fixed it,” he said.
Pancoast, who worked with the displaced Grove artists, said Gedeon did more than casual repairs: He also played the role of a community ambassador for the Bakehouse and was vital to its vision.
“He made it possible. Everyone in the neighborhood knew him and it was important that we made that connection. And we did through him,” Pancoast said.
The transformation of Wynwood is often credited to developer and tycoon Tony Goldman, who in 2006 began snatching up the area’s downtrodden properties and converting them into public art spaces like the Wynwood Walls.
But it was 20 years before Goldman entered the scene that the Bakehouse invited Wynwood’s first street artists to blast its exterior walls with graffiti art.
Two of them were ninth-graders at Miami Jackson High School in 1986. Francisco “Porky” Serrano and Hilton Luciano sidestepped trouble by throwing up murals in a neighborhood most people wouldn’t dare set foot into.
Bakehouse helped the teenage duo develop their artistry and served as an incubator for Miami’s pioneering artists.
Irena Gapkovska, a Bakehouse painter from Macedonia, said the complex has not strayed from its mission of serving emerging creatives.
“For me, Bakehouse is a place where I can share ideas with other artists from different cultures. They can compliment or criticize me and I do the same for them,” Gapkovska said. “It’s better than being isolated and painting by yourself.”
And that’s the legacy the team at Bakehouse hopes the public will acknowledge at its 30-year celebration Friday, current executive director Bibi Baloyra said. The party will highlight Bakehouse’s history in “Baking History: Past-Forward At Wynwood’s True Artistic Pioneer” and feature painter Jacquelie Roch in the center’s first one-woman show.
“We continue to be at the crossroads of the rise of culture in Miami,” Baloya said. “We still have a point in the geography of that.”
Rodriguez, reflecting on the time when she was once in Baloyra’s shoes, said Gedeon must be included in the Bakehouse ceremony.
“Joe’s an institution at this point,” she said. “One does not exist without the other. He loves that place.”
If You Go
What: Baking History: Past-Forward At Wynwood’s True Artistic Pioneer
When: 5-7 p.m. opening reception for Jacqui Roch’s exhibition, Wild Oasis; 7 to 11 p.m. Bakehouse Art Complex 30th Birthday Party; Friday, March 10
Where: Bakehouse Art Complex, 561 NW 32nd St., Miami.
Info: Registration here