Nearly a decade of affection blossomed into this whimsical -and DIY- homesteader wedding overlooking the New River Gorge.
Written by Mikenna Pierotti – Photographed by The Oberports[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hey actually met some 15 years ago, Tony Terrafranca is quick to point out. “But she didn’t remember me,” he says. Mary Grace Legg, for her part, sheepishly admits that she didn’t recognize the young man she was re-introduced to at a birthday party in Denver, Colorado, in 2004, even though they’d first laid eyes on each other years before, at a college party, in Colorado Springs. “It’s terrible, I know,” she says. But as much as he chides her, Tony doesn’t seem to mind. He insists she made an impression on him, though—one that convinced him to make his move. “I thought she was intimidating. She’s so beautiful and sophisticated, but in a punk rock kind of way,” he says.
Mary Grace laughs at his description, but chimes in with one of her own. She says she was a bit cynical before she met him. “Tony was very persistent, which was nice. He was just different from anyone I’d dated before. He’s loving. He’s really good at expressing his emotions. And he’s good at getting me to actually open up. I’d never had anyone in my life do that so well. And he’s a good-looking guy, too. That helped,” she laughs.
Their first date in 2007, however, was memorable for both. Perhaps to solidify him in Mary Grace’s memory, Tony invited her to nearby Lincoln Park and the two took a stroll, exploring the landscape in a totally unfamiliar way: with their eyes closed. “I loved that he was so adventurous,” she says of the date that quickly became much more. And that sense of adventure would follow the new couple from the Rocky Mountains to Appalachia.
Although Mary Grace’s business—LockerPartners Love Cinematography—was a growing success in Denver, the city of her birth, Tony’s love for the land and dream of homesteading were drawing him to Sandstone, West Virginia, where he’d grown up. Thankfully, the couple wasn’t deterred by the idea of a temporarily long-distance relationship. So, for six months in 2011, Tony returned to the Mountain State to farm, raise hogs, and learn a thing or two about self-sufficiency. He took that knowledge back to Denver to try his hand at urban homesteading in 2012, but the landscape of his childhood wouldn’t let him go. “Tony just wanted to farm in West Virginia,” Mary Grace says. “He’s attached to this land.”
So the couple decided to make the leap. “Tony and his brother had bought the land next door to where he grew up. That was a turning point in our relationship,” she says. “A few years after that we decided to both move out, take two years, and build a small house.”
The couple also took the opportunity to start a new chapter in their relationship. In spring 2013, at the very park where they’d had their first adventurous date, Tony proposed to Mary Grace with an antique emerald ring that once belonged to his grandmother. Mary Grace said yes. But not just to him. “For me, it’s like I decided to marry this landscape—marry West Virginia,” she says. “It’s been a crazy change going from Denver to Sandstone, but I think that’s what made the decision so powerful.”
From The Earth Up
In 2013, Mary Grace and Tony didn’t only have a wedding to plan. They had a homestead to get off the ground. And they had a vision of using that homestead to celebrate their union in a truly unique way—as both a venue and a source of sustenance. “We were always going to have the wedding here, on our land. It wasn’t even a question,” Tony says. “We knew we had a lot to figure out. But we wanted to have our families and friends here so they could experience it.”
The multi-year process involved everything from raising hogs and growing vegetables for friends and a local caterer to cook at the reception to growing flowers and collecting fun, animal-themed vases to display arrangements. For this pair, every detail was an opportunity to fuel their guests’ excitement—and show off their creativity.
The couple’s save-the-dates contained a riddle and a special key that guests had to solve to discover the wedding date, which was revealed when the key was placed over the correct page in the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Their invitations were flash drives accompanied by tiny plastic figures representing each guest, which were returned to represent the guests’ intentions to attend and later used to decorate their favors: tiny terrariums filled with soil and moss from the couple’s land.
Although the couple didn’t have a traditional wedding party, they knew from the beginning stages of planning that they wanted to involve friends in the ceremony. And because many of Tony’s friendships revolved around music—he’d begun drumming in high school and had played in bands since 2000—asking those friends to play seemed a natural fit.
“In Colorado Springs he helped form a band called Happy Ugly Ostrich with friends Tim Costigan and Brian Elyo,” Mary Grace says. “We asked Tim to play ‘Where is My Mind?’ by The Pixies to call wedding guests to the ceremony. It’s a song that’s especially important to Tony because he performed it with friends at the second show he ever played.”
Another musically inclined friend, Chris Fowke, from a Denver band Tony was involved in called The Jim Jims, played “Jelly” by The Flaming Lips, and “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure. And Mary Grace’s friend Shawn played a cover of The Kinks’ “Strangers” during the reception bonfire lighting.
Wanting to honor a few of her closest lady friends, Mary Grace asked several to take part in the ceremony, playing the part of the four elements. “We decided to include blessings of the four natural elements that also happen to affect living and thriving off the land: the elements of air, water, fire, and earth,” Mary Grace says.
Knowing she wanted to wear some sort of crown herself, Mary Grace invited those friends to her house for drinks and laughs and to create their own elemental headpieces from craft supplies and found items like ferns, beads, and pheasant feathers.
Friends and family were also asked to participate in many of the couple’s whimsical traditions, including a special game of Assassin using homemade rubber band guns. Kickball, fireworks, wish lanterns—even a bonfire—were planned to keep the mood light, yet meaningful.
This was the same approach Mary Grace and Tony took to outfitting themselves for the big day. As someone who works in the wedding industry, Mary Grace has seen it all and knows the difficulty of creating a unique look. Luckily, she had a connection—Denver artist Leslie Minnis—who happily offered to make the bride’s dress.
First, Mary Grace and Leslie got to work laying the foundation for the ensemble, inspired by a styled wedding dress shoot on the Lifetime series “Project Runway.” “It was called the ‘Hurricane Dress.’ I was attracted to the non-wedding, almost punk rock/deconstructionist feel of it. It was gorgeous and feminine but not precious—almost tough. A feeling of originality and femininity without perfection—void of pretension but still otherworldly and special.”
They then took their vision to the streets of Denver, finding fun materials at Allyn’s Fabric & Bridal Supply and tulle stripped from skirts they found at a thrift store. “We took the material and experimented with dying it, shredding it, and pinning it up in different ways until it felt right. It was a mix of softer fabrics like cotton and linen that we dyed and mixed with some textured fabric pieced together with metallic thread, a few art deco embroidered trim and beads, and the deconstructed thrifted tulle underskirts.”
In the end, she and her friend were able to bring that dream to life—in three parts—a top layer with a beaded neckline made from a vintage necklace in Mary Grace’s own collection, an underskirt that added lift, and a tulle train the bride was able to remove later in the evening when she was dancing. To complete the look, Mary Grace added an icy white and silver crescent-shaped crown made by Etsy artist Insubordinate Avantgarde Design and a pair of perfectly whimsical sparkly blue-green shoes with gold sculpted heels in the shape of woodland creatures.
Not to be outdone, Tony put his own stamp on his wedding attire—an ensemble pieced together from vintage, DIY, and steam punk-inspired details like smokejumper work boots, a crown of branches, and a cravat crafted of vintage ties fashioned by the bride herself. “I had to find something I felt comfortable standing next to her in,” he says of Mary Grace’s stunning dress.
To keep this organic theme running throughout the ceremony and reception, the couple provided woodland animal masks, flower crowns, and homemade brooches to family and friends participating in the ceremony, while guests were encouraged—and inspired—to join in the fun with their own woodland-themed attire.
Bound To The Land
The morning of the wedding, Tony and Mary Grace woke up together. Some of their guests and wedding party members had stayed the night and camped at the homestead, and the group hung out and prepared for the day as the couple took a morning drive to pick flowers for bouquets of zinnias, bachelor’s buttons, amaranth, cosmos, marigolds, and greenery—including brightly colored chili peppers and fragrant basil.
For the wedding, those flowers, along with whimsical bunches of baby vegetables, were whipped into stunning arrangements by florist friend Bianca Maestas, owner of Sketch Garden in Denver. Other friends, including Tony’s old bandmates, played guitar or sang throughout the ceremony. Wherever they could, the couple encouraged friends and family to get involved and make the day that much more meaningful.
And to tie all the elements together, the couple created a unique ceremony to celebrate their love of each other, the land, and the people who came to share in their homesteading happiness. “We’re sort of earth worshippers,” Mary Grace says. “We get a lot from our land, being on this path of sustainability and trying to grow our own food. That needed to be incorporated somehow.”
To pay homage to the landscape that fed and supported them, the couple created a short yet meaningful ritual, starting with their wedding rings, which were hung from a tree for three days. In addition to the four friends who represented air, water, fire, and earth, the couple had four family members each recite a blessing during the ceremony.
The couple later tied an infinity cord and, in honor of Mary Grace’s Filipino and Catholic heritage, her mother buried the effigy of a saint in the middle of their circle of guests. As a last touch, the couple jumped a broomstick after being pronounced husband and wife. “This was all about creating a sacred space. We wanted it to feel big and binding,” she says. For Tony, “it was about making something meaningful for us.”
Celebrating The Harvest
After a photo shoot with West Virginia photographers The Oberports, the wedding party and guests enjoyed cocktails and a tintype photo booth until the chiming of a cast iron dinner bell, made by the groom’s father during his own back-to-the-land days, called them all in for a reception feast.
The bounty, in part raised on the newlyweds’ homestead, included roasted vegetables, winter squash, beets and potatoes, stuffed mushrooms with barley and quinoa, yellow curry, salad, bread, and succulent pork, accented in spectacular fashion with homemade pies, West Virginia beer, and Colorado whiskey Mary Grace bottled herself.
After dinner, guests gathered around a bonfire to dance and spot glowworms in the chilly September night. “We’re older, in our mid-30s now, and it was great to be able to just hang out, bond with everyone, and feel like kids again,” Mary Grace says. “We wanted to bind our relationship and our families to this place,” Tony agrees. Now, looking back on the day that was some three years in the making, and with a long future of homesteading to look forward to, Mary Grace and Tony can’t help but describe their wedding in otherworldly terms. For them, “the day was pure magic.”