After a day at the pool, Brad Alexander told his girlfriend Ashley Pittman that they had to go pick up a frame from One Blu Wall gallery for his mother. Alexander and Pittman entered Fondren Corner near Rooster's, and Alexander made eye contact with gallery owner Christina Cannon through the glass front of her gallery. Thoughts rushed through Alexander's head: "Christina has to set up the camera and turn on the music. ... What will Ashley's reaction be? ... I have to stall Ashley."
As the couple entered the studio, their song, Ray LaMontagne's "You Are the Best Thing" came over the speakers.
"I know what you're here for," Cannon called out from the other room. "Just look around for a second."
Unaware that Alexander was hanging back in the foyer or even that their song was playing, Pittman breezed through the foyer of One Blu Wall, into the first room of the gallery and immediately looked to her left. There, hanging on the wall, she noticed herself in a piece of artwork.
"Why am I on the wall in this gallery?" she thought.
She studied the piece for a moment, and gasped when she realized words were printed on it. "Will you marry me?" it read. On closer inspection, the piece turned out to be a mosaic of thousands of tiny pictures of the couple's life that all came together to form a larger image of Pittman and Alexander gazing into each other's eyes in front of a colorful landscape.
Alexander approached Pittman and got down on one knee. He held out a classic, solitaire diamond ring with a shaky hand. Unbeknownst to Pittman, a video camera was filming every move. He told her he loved her and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
Pittman, in complete shock—"a good shock," she says now—didn't say a word. Alexander shook her hand a little and reminded her that she still hadn't said anything. When she finally let out a "yes," he slid the ring on her finger.
Cannon came out of the back, told them congratulations and asked to see the ring.
"Oh," Pittman said as she looked down at her finger. She was so completely taken aback during the proposal that she hadn't even noticed the ring. "It's perfect," she says now.
Alexander had put a lot of work and effort into pulling off this huge surprise for his beloved.
"Seriously, it was like God was trying to help me out with it because everything just fell into place," he says.
Alexander, 23, a landscape architecture student at Mississippi State University, started working on the project about two months ago. "If you include the time it took to take all the pictures, over two years," he says.
A mutual friend introduced the couple at an apartment-complex pool in Starkville where they lived. Pittman lived two floors above Alexander for a year before they met. Pittman, also 23, was attending MSU at the time, but has since graduated.
"We learned a few weeks later that I was coming to live in Jackson that summer," Pittman says. She is in physical therapy school at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Though they didn't start dating immediately, the fact that Pittman spent that summer in Jackson advanced their relationship. Alexander is originally from Pearl and spends his summers in Jackson when not in school. Pittman is originally from Olive Branch, Miss., and didn't know anyone in Jackson. The couple hung out in groups with other friends all summer. And though the first time they ever went anywhere alone was to lunch at Newk's, Pittman still remembers being nervous. They eventually started dating when they were both back in Starkville.
"The night we officially started dating, we cooked dinner at my house in Starkville and just hung out. We didn't really do anything exciting. We cook dinner a lot together ... I know that's boring," Pittman says with a laugh.
The idea for the photo mosaic started much smaller. "I started messing with it on the computer ... in my spare time, and it just kept snowballing into a bigger thing," Alexander says.
Using his knowledge of Photoshop, Alexander decided to create something special for Pittman. He thought he would just hang the mosaic in her apartment, but after discussing it with his mom, she suggested hanging the mosaic in a gallery. A friend suggested One Blu Wall. Alexander called Cannon, and she was more than willing to help. They arranged the gallery meeting for
7 p.m. on Friday, July 30.
The Tuesday before, Alexander drove to Olive Branch to ask Pittman's parents for their blessing.
"That's one reason I waited so long to ask because her mom may have spilled ..." Alexander starts.
"Would have," Pittman says, finishing her fiancé's sentence. "I didn't hear from my mom at all that week, and she usually calls me. I was like, it's kind-of weird that I haven't talked to my mom all week, but maybe she's just been busy. And I had no idea ... at all."
Alexander explains that while most people only ask the father for the daughter's hand, he felt it was both parents' decision. He met Pittman's parents for lunch in Olive Branch, and they happily accepted Alexander into the family. Her father had only one request: for Brad to love God and love Ashley.
John Pittman, one of Ashley's three younger brothers, sent Alexander a text after the lunch. "You just gained three new brothers," he wrote.
Alexander crafted the ring with the help of his friend Paul Muffuletto whose father, Ron Muffuletto, owns Jackson Jewelers in Flowood. "All I knew was she wanted a solitaire," he says. The store didn't have the exact ring he wanted, so he ordered the pieces separately, and Jackson Jewelers put it together.
The week of the proposal, Alexander only had one problem: The mosaic was not ready. He had sent the images to a printing service, and they had not arrived. He was worried they would not arrive in time, or worse, that something would be wrong with them. The images finally arrived five days later than Alexander planned, but still in time for the proposal.
"Luckily, I sent them earlier than I needed to," he says. "... I was just really glad that it looked the way it did."
Pittman and Alexander had talked about marriage before.
"We talked about it a lot more two or three months ago. I feel like we talked about it kind of a lot, and in the past month we hadn't as much," Pittman says.
"I was trying not to talk about it as much so not to hint toward the engagement," Alexander tells her.
They've already set a date: Aug. 6, 2011.
"With school, it's really hard because we go all year," Pittman says. "... I have one week off. It has to be that day, and then the week I have off is when we'll go on our honeymoon."
The wedding will be at Christ Presbyterian Church in Olive Branch, with Pastor Richard Reeves officiating. The bride has known Reeves since she was 2. The wedding party will have 18 bridesmaids and groomsmen. Pittman's childhood friend, Aly Stone, will be the maid of honor, and Alexander's brother, Blake, will be the best man. Asked about the honeymoon, the couple looked at each other and smiled.
"Somewhere out of the country—probably the beach," Alexander says.
"Definitely beach," Pittman adds.