Ice House

How a Post-Harvey Viral Wedding Photo Inspired an Artist Across the Country

Sarah Miller wanted to do something nice for Chris and Shelley Holland after Hurricane Harvey derailed their wedding. So, she put her skills to use.

By Abby Ledoux July 20, 2018 Published in the August 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Freshly married, Chris Holland wades into the shin-deep water of a flooded street with his new wife, Shelley, in his arms. They kiss right there in the middle of the abandoned road, now effectively a shallow river, transformed by Hurricane Harvey. The tip of the train of the bride’s gown dips beneath the water.

You might have seen the photo: In the year since it was taken, it’s been shared more than 20,000 times on Facebook. After the storm derailed months of planning, the Hollands were left with no venue, food, or flowers 24 hours before their wedding day. But:

“We weren’t gonna let anything get in the way of our wedding,” Shelley Holland says. “Hell or high water, we were going to get married.”

They did, and that kiss—captured by their photographer friend Andi Davis—is a picture-perfect moment of defiance, of one couple’s sheer unwillingness to let the worst natural disaster in Texas history rain on their parade.

It went viral for that reason, making headlines across the country and even the world, appearing everywhere from E! News to The Telegraph in London. About 2,300 miles away in Happy Valley, Oregon, Sarah Miller saw it, too.

“The picture itself just spoke to me right away,” says the 32-year-old artist. “I thought, It’s pretty cool that even amidst all the horrible things happening in Houston … all these people came together to make it happen. That just made me want to do something nice for them.”

At first glance, that something nice is a sketch of the familiar photo, but upon closer inspection, it’s something else, too: words. Every part of the drawing, from the groom’s beard down to the bride’s shoe, is formed by handwritten verses.

“It’s hard to grasp that concept until you really actually see it up close,” Miller says.

Sarah Miller makes art with words.

Image: Sarah Miller

The artistic style is a deeply personal, labor-intensive one that Miller has perfected over the years and offers through her side business, Portraits in Prose, ink. Each creation takes around 10 hours. For the piece on the Hollands—strangers to Miller—the artist gleaned intel on their lives from their Facebook profiles, taking note of favorite musicians, Bible verses, hometowns, and children’s names.

“It’s kind of creepy, I guess,” she laughs.

To the couple, the result is heartwarming—and, it turns out, spot-on.

“All of the lyrics that she put in there, we knew the songs and loved them,” Shelley says. “Some of them were even in our wedding playlist.”

After their wedding photo went viral while they were honeymooning in Hawaii, the Hollands heard from so many people—wanting to turn the photo into a sculpture, a painting, an album cover—that Shelley still hasn’t cleared her inbox. When she first heard from Miller via Facebook, she says, “I didn’t know if she would follow through with it because so many other people haven’t.”

This isn’t the first time a widely shared image has inspired Miller—after forest fires decimated thousands of acres on the West Coast last year, she used lyrics to re-create a shot of a firefighter holding an American flag, selling prints and T-shirts to benefit the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Later she tracked down the firefighter from the original photograph—it had actually been taken in 2012—in Arizona and sent the drawing to his fire station.

“I don’t actually get to see their reaction when I give it to them,” the artist says. “I don’t know if it did get framed and hung up somewhere in the fire house, or if it just got put away with all the rest of the mail. It’s kind of hard. But it doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it. If there’s something that I can do to help and share my art at the same time, it feels good.”

The Hollands, now living in Atlanta, Texas, got their delivery from Miller in June. “It’s so beautiful,” Shelley says. “We’re going to get a really nice frame.”

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