It was a wedding planned for maximum shock value. Whitney Ward and Joe Coleman's friends would have been disappointed with anything less. A ventriloquist's dummy named Phineas Dutch Duffy officiated at the ceremony (the ventriloquist himself is ordained in the Universal Life Church). The flower girl was a scantily clad woman dressed as a mermaid. The train of the bride's gown was carried by two costumed dwarfs. The table decorations included bizarrely carved jack-o'-lanterns and cured pigs feet.
Whitney, in her 30s, is a New York City photographer who has long held a role in, as one guest called it, "the New York fetish scene."
Joe is one of the "leading visionary artists in the world," according to Rebecca Hoffberger, director of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. His paintings sell for more than $30,000. His subjects, besides himself, range from Edgar Allan Poe to serial killer Carl Panzram.
Joe, 45, got his start as a performance artist known for seemingly blowing himself up. He always painted, but didn't become known for his art until the mid-1980s. He has since published books of his work and has been exhibited at museums internationally along with the Visionary Art Museum.
His art is graphic, sometimes violent, and incredibly detailed. The 6-foot by 7-foot portrait he painted for his marriage shows him and Whitney dressed in their wedding attire atop the head of a giant demon. They are surrounded by guests at their wedding and other friends, including actors Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio, both of whom collect Joe's art. Those whom the couple admire are depicted above them in heaven. Their enemies, complete with names, writhe naked below them, in hell.
Whitney and Joe were introduced by a mutual friend nearly a decade ago. They began dating three years ago after Joe visited Whitney at a photo shoot and happened to mention his collection of taxidermy. Taxidermy is one of Whitney's passions.
As unconventional as the couple appear, they believe in marriage -- but with their own vision. They are, Whitney says, obsessed with double dates, which is why they decided to marry on 11-11-00. And they planned the wedding in the exotic locale they love best: Baltimore.
"We liked the fact of making it an adventure," Joe explains. And he and Whitney love the Visionary Art Museum and consider the staff there "like family."
The couple spent the three days before the ceremony transforming the museum's Sculpture Barn into a wedding chamber. They collect sideshow oddities from carnival "freak shows" that toured the country at the turn of the last century.
Many of the bizarre items from the "Odditorium" in their New York City apartment made the trip to Baltimore, including a stuffed two-headed calf and a stuffed two-headed monkey that appeared on the altar.
The wedding invitations asked the more than 300 guests to don a "costume or glamorous formal attire." So those in tuxedos and evening gowns mingled with everyone from the Easter Bunny to strippers, not to mention a fair number of transvestites.
The guests included Baltimore director John Waters and Hollywood composer Danny Elfman, whose music has accompanied the movies "Edward Scissorhands" and last year's "Instinct." Both men admire Joe's art. Italian movie star and director Asia Argento, who featured Joe in her recent film "Scarlet Diva," flew in from Rome.
"I now speak for the crowd when I say, 'The excitement is all ours!' " Peter Warner intoned through his ventriloquist's dummy as the wedding began.
Joe arrived in a wicker coffin (part of the couple's collection), carried in by six of his closest friends. On her father's arm, Whitney walked down the aisle in an iridescent green and purple satin gown. Her matching gloves bore tassels rendered from her maid of honor's hair.
Whitney's eyes filled with tears when Joe told her during their vows, "I would like to live 1,000 years and every year would get better and better. But if I died tomorrow, I would think that my life was the best that any human being ever [expletive] lived."
"What took you so long?" she chided gently during her portion of the vows, the same words spoken by many a bride before her.
Highlights of the reception included entertainment by Hazil Adkins, a one-man band from West Virginia, and Johnny Fox, a professional sword swallower who swallowed the sword with which Joe and Whitney cut their cake.
The entire affair was judged grand by the couple's family and friends. As one guest put it, "We figure it was a success because half of the guests are exhibitionists and the other half are voyeurs."
TO OUR READERS
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