First They Built a House. Later, Huts. Then, a Life Together.

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    Michael Porten had been sleeping on a piece of foam inside a Savannah, Ga., parking garage when Trish Andersen invited him to crash in the room at a local hotel that she was sharing with her ex-boyfriend.

    Mr. Porten, of Savannah, was not down on his luck, just slightly maniacal about proximity to his job site at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In March 2014, he and Ms. Andersen, both artists, had been commissioned by SCAD to create a microhouse near campus no bigger than a parking space for a project called SCADpad, which focused on the future of urban housing design.

    Neither is sure whether the collaboration benefited from Mr. Porter sleeping with a proper roof over his head for the three days he and Ms. Andersen worked as partners. But a year later, the two were figuring out whether they might be more than an artistic match while swimming in their underwear in a medieval town in Southern France.

    Ms. Andersen, 38, is a fiber artist and the founder of a fine art and home textiles studio. When she met Mr. Porten, she was living in Brooklyn, where she moved after graduating from SCAD with a textile degree in 2005.

    A painter and sculptor, Mr. Porten, 39, also graduated from SCAD, first with a bachelor’s degree in illustration in 2004, then, in 2010, with an M.F.A. in painting.

    The two had not crossed paths before SCADpad, though. Their pairing for it stemmed from their shared love of unusual patterns and colors, said Amy Zurcher, the project’s organizer and a longtime friend to both. Less obvious to Ms. Zurcher was their mutual fierceness about meeting deadlines. When Ms. Andersen arrived in Savannah, Mr. Porten was running on fumes.

    “Michael was ragged,” Ms. Andersen said, from working around the clock and sleeping in the parking garage. She respected his work ethic. “I work myself to the limits of physical pain when I have to,” she said, “and I appreciate people who do that, too.”

    Their triumph over meeting the project’s deadline aside, each left it too tired to make any promises about keeping in touch. By the time that new solo art projects brought each to Lacoste, France, in the summer of 2015, Ms. Andersen felt compelled to ask Mr. Porten if he remembered her. He did, and this time they made an effort to get to know each other.

    Ms. Andersen tracks her interest in fiber art to her childhood in Dalton, Ga., which home to hundreds of carpet plants and is often referred to as “the carpet capital of the world,” she said. The town, where she grew up with two sisters and a brother, encouraged her creativity. So did her parents, Robb and Ellen Andersen.

    Mr. Porten grew up in Madison, Ala., with his mother, Frances Porten, and an older sister. When he was 1, his parents divorced; his father, Nicholas Porten, and four other siblings stayed in his birthplace of Indianapolis. His entree to the art world was an evolution. “Math was more my forte in school,” he said, adding, “I feel like the world sometimes figures out what it wants to do with you, and you end up doing that.”

    He traveled to France in May 2015 to paint a mural in Lacoste, commissioned by SCAD, and for a solo show of his work in a local gallery. Ms. Andersen, who reconnected with him after arriving there in June, was in Lacoste for an alumni artist’s residency SCAD was offering. Her plan was to make several huts similar to the medieval huts that dot the local landscape, but out of fabric-wrapped rope. Disaster struck when miles of her rope got stuck in customs. By the time it arrived, she was desperate for help getting it wrapped and ready.

    “All these people had to jump in and help me,” she said. Mr. Porten was one of those people.

    When they weren’t wrapping rope in bold fabric, “we discovered secrets in ancient ruins, listened to an ocean of bees echo in a valley of lavender and watched the sun set on a mountain to the sound of goat bells,” she said. They also swam in their underwear and drank a lot of wine.

    But when what she calls their summer of love ended that August, she returned to Brooklyn and he to Savannah, again without making each other promises. This time, though, she had wanted one.

    “I was thinking, he’s my dude, and we’re going to come back to the States and be a couple,” Ms. Andersen said. Instead, soon after he got home, Mr. Porten started dating someone else. She found out on a fall 2015 work trip to Savannah.

    “I remember my mom coming to meet me, and I was just bawling and crying in our hotel room,” she said. “I went back to New York like, I’m done with him.”

    But soon Mr. Porten’s new relationship started to unravel. She wasn’t too resentful to sympathize, and talked him through disentangling himself over the phone.

    A year later, after each made several trips to the other’s city for visits, Mr. Porten was ready to call her his girlfriend. “She had been ahead of me on the emotional attachment thing,” he said. “I caught up.”

    Until 2018, they made a long-distance relationship work. But Ms. Andersen’s tether to New York was loosening. “I was ready not to be there all the time,” she said. She also wanted to lean into the fine art side of her career, and Savannah seemed a better place for that. Mr. Porten was there to help her master the operation of a tufting gun, the tool she uses to create much of her fiber art.

    That fall, she gave up her Brooklyn apartment and moved with Mr. Porten into a house in Savannah (in October, its décor was featured in Architectural Digest). It hadn’t been an easy decision. “I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket,” Ms. Andersen said. “If it didn’t work out, I didn’t want to screw myself so I wouldn’t be able to go back to New York.”

    And Ms. Andersen did not move before protecting herself. Toward the middle of 2018, “I said to Michael, ‘Are we going to get married? Do you want kids? Because if you don’t want kids, I’m out,’” she said.

    Mr. Porten decided he did want those things and told her, to her relief, without a lot of hesitation.

    The following year, at a vacation house in Edisto Beach, S.C., where Ms. Andersen’s family was spending the holidays, he proposed on Christmas Day, presenting her with a paper engagement ring he had secretly commissioned their artist friend Libby Newell to make.

    Ms. Andersen’s mother cried happy tears. Her own reaction was less traditional: caught off guard, she called him profanity’s version of a jerk. “He really got me, you know?” she said. “The whole drive to South Carolina I was thinking the ‘I’m-going-to-have-to-leave-him-if-he-doesn’t-propose-but-I-can’t-because-I-love-him’ kind of thing.”

    The wedding they set for October 2020 at SCAD was sidelined by the pandemic. That was OK, Ms. Andersen said, because “my spirit couldn’t handle planning a wedding with all that was going on.” At the wedding that took place a year later, on Nov. 6 at SCAD, the bride wore rain boots. And not as a show of artistic quirkiness.

    On Nov. 5, a storm pummeled Savannah, flooding the site they had planned to have their ceremony, Habersham Hall, with four inches of water. With the help of their friends Paula and Glenn Wallace, SCAD’s president and chief operating officer, they regrouped to Poetter Hall, another campus building.

    The rain was still falling when Ms. Andersen’s brother, Robb Andersen, a Universal Life Church minister who was ordained for the event, pronounced them married in front of 180 guests, most of them vaccinated and some of them soaked.

    The downpour, both reflected, may have been the best part of their wedding.

    “Our friends are all artists and creatives, and when they saw the chaos, that we were dealing with hurricane-level winds and all this water, they turned themselves into an army,” said Ms. Andersen, who added that most of their wedding décor was salvaged except for “the 20-foot-tall windsock dancers made to look like us.”

    “They were too wet to dance,” she added.

    Mr. Porten, armed with a five-gallon bucket for scooping water, helped friends pitch a tent outside Habersham Hall for the reception. He was no stranger to ambitious projects, but none had ever left him feeling fuller.

    “Seeing my friends out there schlepping and solving problems, it was next-level,” he said. “Magic happened that day.”


    When Nov. 6, 2021

    Where Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Ga.

    Sparks Ms. Zurcher, who paired Ms. Andersen and Mr. Porten for their microhouse project, said she intentionally played “a bit of a pushy part” in their professional relationship: “Both of them have creative sparks that just shoot off them. I sensed they were on a parallel path.”

    Down the Artistic Rabbit Hole In keeping with their aesthetic sensibilities, the wedding décor featured handmade whimsical elements, including a giant paper cat on wheels that their flower girl, Oslin King, rode in on. “I wanted it to have Alice in Wonderland touches,” said Ms. Andersen, who wore a celery green dress made by her friend Anna McCraney for the ceremony, then a more colorful outfit for the reception. “My inspiration was sort of a wacky school play. I wanted everything to look handmade and messy.”

    Magic Feet Mr. Porten’s wedding shoes were yellow and red polka-dot Stan Smiths, described by Ms. Andersen as his signature. “I once had a show that was inspired by the inherent optimism you can generate from clothing,” he said. “If you wear something bright on your feet, when you look down, things aren’t so serious. It’s powerful.”



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