Jill & Brandon's Elegant New England Wedding | Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
New England charm meets classic elegance at this Martha's Vineyard wedding in Edgartown, Massachusetts. Jill & Brandon were married at the Old Whaling Church and held their tented reception at the Dr. Daniel Fisher House & Gardens. Jill Akus is a maker of leather goods, crafting gorgeous handbags and wallets, she creates beautiful bespoke works of art from her imagination. She brought this talent and passion to her wedding, crafting most of the details by hand. Join me in revisiting this beautiful wedding and read a few words from Jill along the way.
From the Bride…
When Brandon and I were dating, one of the first places he took me away was to his family’s summer cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, where he’d been vacationing and working summers since he was a boy. The island naturally became our favorite place to escape the city and an enchanting backdrop to the story of our growing love for each other. We went on hikes through the scrub oak and along quiet beaches, exploring the island’s secret places. Early one August morning, we were collecting shells on the shore of Katama Bay. Brandon was kneeling at the waterline and called to me down the beach, “Come look at this one!” When I came to look, he had a ring in his hand. That’s how fate was sealed for us to spend our lives together, and it seemed inevitable that we would come back to the island to be married.
We took on the wedding planning and preparation ourselves, and I’d gotten used to skeptics raising their eyebrows when I said I was making over a hundred gifts for our guests by hand, but I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I’m a maker; it’s my business and my passion, and a big part of the wedding experience for me was seeing the event as a kind of living sculpture. The more I had my hands in the presentation, the more meaning I found in the details. I did the layout for our ceremony programs and the menus for our place settings. Early on the morning of the wedding, we were at the venue with our vendors arranging the flowers and setting the tables. An hour before the ceremony, I was sewing a broken strap on one of my flower girl’s shoes and adjusting my bridesmaids’ dress straps. I was the last one to get my makeup done and the last one ready! All this made it more fun and more memorable for me.
“I’m a maker; it’s my business and my passion, and a big part of the wedding experience for me was seeing the event as a kind of living sculpture.”
Throughout the weekend, friends and relatives kept reminding me of an old adage that goes something like, “A bride who has rain on her wedding day will be blessed with flowers for the rest of her life.” I found some truth in that wisdom as Friday and Saturday mornings each began with a pleasant errand in the rain to collect flowers from Old Town Gardens, a small farm nearby in Edgartown. The boutonnieres were white dahlias with tansy, and the bridal bouquets were a variety of dahlias and wildflowers in bloom in the field. I made the bouquets and boutonnieres myself with wire and twine.
“A bride who has rain on her wedding day will be blessed with flowers for the rest of her life.”
“The week before the wedding, a big storm blew in with heavy wind and torrential rain, which added some suspense to the experience, especially because the only way to get there is by plane or boat.”
We planned our wedding for the first Saturday in October in a grove of apple trees on the grounds behind the Doctor Daniel Fisher House, a historic Greek revival home in downtown Edgartown where many summer events are held. The week before the wedding, a big storm blew in with heavy wind and torrential rain, which added some suspense to the experience, especially because the only way to get there is by plane or boat. Fortunately the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust had made the Old Whaling Church next door to the Fisher House available as a ceremony rain plan, which ended up surpassing our initial vision.
“The original trompe d’oeile murals on the walls have been lovingly reproduced by area artist, Margot Datz, creating the illusion of the room expanding into a space beyond the walls.”
The church was once a place where wives of sailors came to pray for their husbands’ safe return from whaling voyages and now serves as a non-denominational community space. The original trompe d’oeile murals on the walls have been lovingly reproduced by area artist, Margot Datz, creating the illusion of the room expanding into a space beyond the walls. Brandon and I share a deep appreciation for art, he being a writer and I an artisan of leather goods, so the space felt like a fitting nod to the importance the spirit of art has had in our life together.
“Our beloved Dachshund, Massimo was our ring bearer, and I made him a special collar, leash and bowtie for the occasion.”
Our ceremony was officiated by my brother, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Coast Guard. A classical guitarist accompanied us, and I walked down the aisle to an instrumental rendition of “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles. Brandon’s sister delivered a reading of Emily Dickinson’s poem “It’s all I have to bring today,” and my oldest brother read “Out of the rolling ocean the crowd” by Walt Whitman. We wrote our own vows, which evoked a few tears from me and our guests.
A table near the entry was arranged with place cards I’d designed and printed, each with a unique image inspired by the natural surroundings of the island along with a guest book I hand bound with love-inspired quotes and images. The place cards became a kind of game, and guests had fun searching for their cards to discover what picture they’d been given.
“The mantle of the fireplace was lined with photographs of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents on their wedding days.”
The farmer arranged floral centerpieces for our dinner tables in beautiful, rusty old tomato cans she loaned us. We arranged more flowers in empty wine bottles we’d been saving to add small accents of color to the whaling church for the ceremony.
Our cake was a semi-naked zucchini bread cake with cream cheese frosting decorated with edible flower petals. It was a rich, rustic, delicious creation and there wasn’t much left by the end of the night.
After the ceremony, guests gathered next door at the Fisher House for wine and beer, a yellow boat raw bar of oysters and little necks, and passed appetizers including Roma tomato canapés, French onion tarts, rustic tomato soup shooters, mini lobster rolls and jumbo shrimp cocktail. As they mingled, guests were entertained by the talents of the piano player from our band getting warmed up on the baby grand piano in the house.
After guests dined on their choice of pan seared cod, herb-crusted lemon chicken, or a seasonal vegetable haystack, the band started its set with the Basin Street Blues. We skipped the latest pop trends in favor of an instrumental jazz quintet to play Dixieland and swing. Our first dance was to “Our Love is Here to Stay” by George Gershwin, and our Father/Daughter and Mother/Son dance was to “Look for the Silver Lining” by Chet Baker. Our guests really got into the classic feel of the music and the dance floor was busy all night.
At four-o-clock, everyone entered the tented patio to find their seats for dinner. We named each table after one of our favorite places on the island like ‘Cedar Tree Neck,’ ‘Huckleberry Barrens,’ and ‘Katama Point.’ The place settings were each marked with guests’ names I’d dry-transferred onto seashells we collected from the beach where Brandon asked me to marry him. I made hand stitched leather key chains for all of the men and pearl necklaces on leather cord for all of the women. I come from a big family and we had a lot of young children in attendance, so for the kids I made woodland animal masks, which were entertaining for everyone.
With the party in full swing, Brandon and I snuck away to check into our room for the evening at the Charlotte Inn around the corner on Summer Street. It’s the kind of place that feels like stepping into a nostalgic memory of the past. Every room from the dining room to the guest rooms is a perfect tableau of fine art and antique collectibles. We followed our host up the stairs to delight for a moment over the antique canopy bed, and the array of decorative touches from the floral wallpaper and original oil paintings to the claw tub and collection of antique bath products in the medicine cabinet. My groom put the shiny brass key in his pocket, and we returned to the party to cut the cake.
“We followed our host up the stairs to delight for a moment over the antique canopy bed, and the array of decorative touches from the floral wallpaper and original oil paintings to the claw tub and collection of antique bath products in the medicine cabinet.”
I woke the next morning to the early sunlight through the window falling on the bedcover and the autumn colors of a maple bough through the rippled glass. We would see our friends and family later in the morning for a brunch at the Boathouse overlooking Edgartown Harbor. Then we would stay on the island for another week to relax and explore the as we’d done many times before, but now from the new vantage point of this high place in our love and our life together.
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My heartfelt appreciation to Yuri Vaysgant for his assistance & keen photographic eye at this wedding!
Todd Danforth Photography is a Los Angeles wedding photographer specializing in capturing moments and emotion. A storyteller at the core, he believes in the timeless power of a poetic visual narrative, creating honest and authentic photographs to share with your loved ones for years to come. This Martha’s Vineyard wedding was photographed at Dr. Daniel Fisher House and Gardens in Edgartown, Massachusetts.