Lakeland Arts Recaptures the Lost Art of Hand-Painted Victorian Wedding
By Ladonna Rodriguez
Photography by Alexa Sarduy, Terrie Nelson, Dustin Prickett and Emily Loeppke
Emily Plank. Remember her name. Why? Because Emily Plank is something of an artistic enigma. Present-day Emily is busily checking off boxes: photographer, watercolor artist, acrylic painter, and most notably, artist of hand-painted wedding dresses.
Emily has loved all things art for as long as memory serves her. She attributes some of her passion for art to her mother’s creative talent in singing and some to her great-great grandfather, who was a merchant and folk artist in Tennessee beginning in the 1920s. From Buckeye trees, he hand-carved “The Buckeye Family” sculpture, a near life- size composition of four figurines, which took over three years to complete. Using only a pocket knife, axe, sandpaper and paint, he created the wood art, which featured the four distinct characters standing facing forward.
So, the artistic gene was already firmly rooted in Emily’s core, and she followed that passion when attending college. After initially pursuing a degree in pre- med studies, she quickly switched to her calling—fine arts. Her studies of the fine arts required that she touch on all forms of art, and so she learned about printmaking, photography, painting and art history, all of which would lead her to the path that she is on now. Emily is a contrarian among artists—that is, she is equally strong in both her artistic senses and her logical, critical thinking, and as she notes, “both sides of my brain are constantly at war.” Her artistic nature is complemented by her sense of structure, form, planning (curiously, she “likes spreadsheets”), and the need to problem solve.
Some twelve years ago, while in college, her roommate discovered that Emily was a budding, talented photographer and insisted that she photograph her wedding engagement photo, a stepping stone in her career path. After several years of taking family and engagement photographs, she then delved into wedding photography. Emily found herself the photographer du jour among her contemporaries.
While Emily was doing a photo shoot for The Southern Swan, a local boutique owned by designer Olivia Jacoby, it was brought to Olivia’s attention that Emily painted with watercolor. Olivia relayed that she had noticed a trend of hand-painted dresses in a national wedding magazine and that she would like Emily to create something to display in her boutique. Olivia designed a blue and white floral scheme, and Emily didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to create a beautifully hand- painted one-of-a-kind design. Building on her experience with Olivia, who was the catapult for the direction of Emily’s career, Emily then designed and created a second dress, and, working from sketches, brought a beautiful floral design to life with brush in hand. Emily wore this dress to a function, and admiring eyes noticed and inquired.