New Orleans is one of the top spots in the United States for destination weddings, and it’s also an epicenter of Southern DIY style. Whether you grew up here or you’re flying in for the Big Day, this city offers rich possibilities for brides seeking a handmade touch.
Finding the right professionals can take time, but the good news is that browsing art galleries and craft fairs is a lot more fun than having a wedding dress altered or negotiating with caterers. And you’ll be supporting the arts at a time when it can be tough to be an artist.
Artist and crafter Brandi Couvillion makes everything from oil paintings to metal cuff bracelets. You probably won’t find her in a bridal magazine. Her studio is packed with drawers of ink wells and Victorian shoes found while exploring abandoned homes, and she considers herself a preservationist, rather than a wedding vendor.
“I’m doing pieces that are more about telling the house’s story,” she said, pointing to a recently finished assemblage of doll parts hanging on the wall.
But her vibrant feather fascinators, often detailed with shells or other found objects, are perfect for bridesmaids. And the earrings she fashions from antique crystal chandelier pulls and sterling silver chains would be stunning on a bride.
When you’re planning your wedding, don’t just limit yourself to traditional vendors. Keep an open mind, and engage the crafters whose work you admire in a conversation about whether they’d be willing to do a group of matching pieces, or even alter certain details of a piece to fit within your color scheme. Couvillion, for one, doesn’t mind.
“I love it because I love working with people, and it makes it so much more special,” she said.
There are several ways to incorporate unique, handmade art and crafts into a wedding.
Crafty Bachelorette Party
Find a professional crafter through Etsy.com or an art fair to oversee creative artistry at your bachelorette party. Look for someone with experience leading amateurs, or just a lot of patience. Look for a project that is low-skill, low-risk, and doesn’t require each participant to have expensive tools. You could even ask for a simplified demonstration of the project ahead of time, in lieu of a traditional interview.
Negotiate a rate that works for you both. The demonstration takes both time and supplies, so expect to factor that into the rate. Just like with professional “day of” hair and makeup, it might be worth the extra cost for you to feel comfortable. Anything that reduces stress is a bonus when planning a wedding.
And by the way, some crafters will think it’s a great idea, but others will think you’re strange for even asking. No big deal.
“You’ve got to make ends meet,” said Couvillion. “And sometimes in this economy people are more interested in doing things like that.”
One of the more challenging ways to incorporate local arts and crafts into your wedding is through the gifts you’ll receive. Wedding registry options tend to be stacked toward “big box” stores and national department store chains, leaving few options for steering your guests’ purchasing power toward New Orleans’ art economy.
MyRegistry.com is one of the only ones that allow you to add items from a store that doesn’t already have an online registry. You can even add products that aren’t on a website. It’s a little complicated though, so you should definitely include some traditional options for the less internet-savvy among your guests.
You can even use the site to create a cash fund dedicated to your favorite local tattoo shop, so that friends can help you and your loved one get those elaborate, matching shoulder tats of a pelican drinking a hurricane, riding a dolphin. Whatever symbolizes your love for each other!
If you’re a guest rather than a bride, picking out art for someone who hasn’t registered for it can be tricky.
Whether or not to stick to the registry is a matter of etiquette and philosophy beyond my expertise. But should you decide to stray from the couple’s wish list, the same universal gift-giving rules apply. Think of the persons you’re buying for — their tastes, their sense of humor, your best memories together, what made you like them in the first place — and choose your gift to suit them.
You should only buy a painting for someone you know really well. And a relatively small piece is definitely the way to go. Couvillion has several smaller canvases and assemblages that would look lovely either hung solo on a wall or clustered with other pieces.
“A small little painting is good because people don’t have to think too hard about how it’s going to take up a whole wall,” she said.
Returning the Favor
Brides and grooms have to buy presents, too — for the wedding party, to thank family that contributed to their expenses, or as small favors for guests. There are a million choices in New Orleans and the broader Southern craft scene.
For favors, think about the abundance of homemade magnets with local landmarks or brand names. Every time your guests look at the fridge and see that Hubig’s Pie magnet, they’ll remember the night you got married.
You can find handmade magnets everywhere, not only at art fairs and boutiques, but also in the line for your hot dog at Bud’s Broiler. So just keep your eyes open, talk to the person behind the counter, and ask if you can get a bulk order from the artist. Put one or two in a transparent party favor bag — the kind available in bulk from the dollar store. Add a praline or a mini-bottle of hot sauce and tie it off with a ribbon in your wedding colors.
For a great gender-neutral wedding party gift, check out the French Market booth of Federico Salas. He fashions homemade journals from interesting natural fibers like asparagus, sugar cane and bougainvillea, using motifs from his native Mexico.
Jewelry is the obvious option for thanking mothers and bridesmaids, and there are simply too many options to list here. The Arts Market of New Orleans sets up in Palmer Park on the last Saturday of every month. If you want to make a roadtrip out of it, idyllic False River, La., will host art and craft vendors at its first annual Harvest Festival in October.
There are also plenty of stores within the city limits that support local artists. A great place to start is the cluster of jewelry and clothing stores in the Garden District section of Magazine Street. Try Green Serene, UP/Unique Products, GOGO Jewelry or Branch Out for unique, handmade gift ideas.
Molly Davis writes about New Orleans for NolaVie. Follow Molly’s tweets on @journosouth. For more on photographer Jason Kruppa, check out kruppaworks.com.