- Dewitt Godfrey
Marriage, by its very nature, is a creative endeavor. And just as each marriage is unique, each wedding celebration uniquely reflects the two individuals who stand together in front of friends and family vowing to jointly travel life's journey. Every great creative endeavor—whether it be an avant-garde film, a retrospective showing of an old master, or a wedding celebration—provides a multitude of opportunities for creative expression, but the cornerstone of the celebration is its venue. Both stage and palette, the right wedding venue can be a vehicle for a couple's artistry, setting the tone for an event that guests will remember for years to come.
The Hudson Valley, home to creatives and artists of all stripe for the last 200 years, is also a center of myriad art colonies, performance spaces, and museums that welcome outside events. Whether by providing a backdrop of art intermingled with nature or by allowing couples to infuse their celebration with the area's rich artistic heritage, they all invite and encourage the artist inside to take charge in designing nuptial events. What's more, all proceeds from the venue rentals go straight back into the organizations that run them, helping to provide the Hudson Valley with artistic, cultural, and educational programming, and adding to its rich artistic legacy.
Sculpt a Life Together—Omi International Arts Center
Surrounded by world-class sculpture and providing incredible views of the nearby Catskills, the 90-acre Omi International Arts Center outside Ghent offers soon-to-be newlyweds and their guests endless inspiration. In the warmer months, couples can rent space and erect tents in one of the many outdoor locations, including the center's Fields Sculpture Park, saying their vows amidst acres and acres of quiet, art-adorned fields. They also have the option to place a tent contiguous to the Charles B. Benenson Visitors Center, a LEED-certified green building whose architecture resembles the simple artistry of the sculptures that it's nestled among.
With year-round event facilities, Omi's cluster of hilltop houses is perfect for winter celebrations. The three buildings, including a fully restored 1860s Federal farmhouse and two smaller cottages, provide 21 rooms for lodging. A library, fully equipped kitchen, and communal spaces filled with art make Omi an ideal destination wedding spot. (518) 392-4747; Artomi.org.
Two Minds, One Imagination—Shakespeare-on-the-Hudson
If you are planning a wedding with a high production value, head north to Athens. True to the theatrical spirit of the bard, Shakespeare-on-the-Hudson gives a couple's imagination free reign. When touring the facilities, which include a dance and music pavilion, a sprawling lawn, and on-site catering, engaged couples are given permission "to create their own dream." The expansive grounds have been the stage for all sorts of matrimonial productions—everything from 1940s-style to Halloween-themed wedding events that often incorporate grand flourishes such as horse and carriages.
The property, offering tranquility and privacy as well as birds and other wildlife, can accommodate events for up to 500 people and provide on-site lodging for up to 40 guests. Additional guests can be accommodated 10 minutes away at the historical Stewart House in the Athens Hotel. With almost a mile of unsullied Hudson River frontage and 100 acres of woods straight from one of Shakespeare's plays, the site also offers hiking and biking trails, boating facilities, and swimming in the Hudson and Corlear Creek. (518) 947-1104; Shakespeare-on-the-hudson.com.
Love in the Wild—Mount Tremper Arts
Infused with the spirit of the new and avant-garde, and located right in the heart of the Catskills, Phoenicia's Mount Tremper Arts (MTA) provides a support system for working artists, offering residencies to a wide variety of artists cumulating in performances that form an annual summer-long festival open to the public. MTA also rents event space and welcomes inquiries for year-round weddings. Come here for an off-beat, family-reunion-style nuptials amidst the 150 acres of woods and fields adjacent to forever-wild state lands. Plan an outdoor ceremony under starry skies or erect a tent on one of the property's many large outdoor areas. Or come to dance: MTA's post-and-beam-inspired studio has 25-foot ceilings and is equipped with a professional sound and lighting system, both AC and radiant-floor heat, and a sprung wooden dance floor. Couples and their guests have utilized the 32-foot-by-50-foot space for ceremonies seating up to 140 people, raucous musical receptions, and even welcoming-night karaoke parties.
In addition to hiking trails and tubing in the nearby Esopus River, a couple's friends and family members can enjoy the campus gardens, campfire pit, and pond. These add up to make MTA an ideal minidestination wedding spot. (845) 688-9893; Mounttremperarts.org.
Collaboration, Community, and a Bit of Glue—Basilica Hudson
Basilica Hudson prides itself on being a center for creative collaboration. Striving to enliven Hudson's riverfront with art and music, the center hosts numerous festivals every year, including Basilica Soundscape and Basilica Farm and Flea as well as fundraising events benefiting the local community. All combine art and performance in the center's Forge and Foundry building, a reimagined factory space that at one time was used to manufacture railway wheels and another glue.
This sense of creative collaboration extends to couples who elect to tie the knot at one of the site's many event spaces. Basilica attracts a lot of couples who are interested in the venue's arts activity. Often those couples become invested in the center and the community it serves, incorporating current happenings into their wedding planning and donating time or resources to the center and surrounding community. Basilica's Main Hall, with industrial windows, brick walls, and steel girders, can accommodate large celebrations, and the smaller space in the North Hall can accommodate up to 150 guests. While the town of Hudson makes Basilica a great destination wedding spot, be forewarned: Couples often fall in love with the center and surrounding community, returning to visit and even relocating to the area. (518) 822-1050; Basilicahudson.com.
Held Together by Love—Opus 40
Sculptor Harvey Fite spent 37 years crafting the stone art installation that is Opus 40 from an abandoned quarry in the woods of Saugerties. Perhaps it's the evidence of Fite's unflagging dedication and longevity of purpose, or the romantic and whimsical stone sculptures spread throughout the 70-plus-acre complex, or just the sheer beauty of the place that make this a popular and fascinating wedding venue. The millions of individual bluestones, held together by nothing but superior craftsmanship and gravity, form a striking blend of artistry and landscape, which acts as a backdrop for an event space that can accommodate over 300 guests. The site's acoustics, as well as its proximity to one of the world's most famous musical towns, make this an ideal venue for serious music lovers who want to incorporate live performance into their event.
Opus 40's Quarrymen's Museum houses the traditional, hand-forged quarryman's tools used by Fite to build his masterpiece. The museum can be reserved as a private space for the bridal party, and the installation and surrounding grounds, open weekends from Memorial Day through October, are available for events. (845) 246-3400; Opus40.org.
Kindness Begets Kindness—The Byrdcliffe Colony of the Arts
Built in the mountains above Woodstock, the Byrdcliffe Colony of the Arts began as a utopian arts community in 1903. The dark wood Swiss chalet-style buildings with the iconic Byrdcliffe Blue trim were designed to provide a home for artisans of all kinds. The colony quickly became a center for arts-and-crafts handiwork, architecture, and pieces displayed throughout the country today.
Byrdcliffe founders Ralph and Jane Whitehead hand-built the heart of the colony, their home "White Pines," and the house and surrounding grounds are currently utilized for public and private events. The expansive lawns can be rented for both ceremony and reception. More intimate gatherings can be accommodated in the White Pines' living room or "Loom Room," built adjacent to the main house and still displaying looms and spindles of dyed woolDown the road, the Byrdcliffe Barn tends toward the more rustic and is a popular venue for up to 135 people. Byrdcliffe's black-box theater is also for rent—hosting receptions, galas, and dinners.
Byrdcliffe is still a thriving arts colony and guests can mingle with the ceramicists, landscape painters, musicians, and writers who live and work on the 250-acre property. A remnant of the long-lasting marriage of the Whiteheads, a Sophocles quote from his play "Ajax," is engraved over the Loom Room fireplace. Translating as "Kindness begets kindness evermore," it offers wise and timeless advice for beginning a life with your beloved. Byrdcliffe facilities are available May through October. (845) 679-2079; Woodstockguild.org.