Another Royal Wedding. This One Newark Style.
Posted June 15, 2018 11:23 p.m. EDT
Rebecca Pauline Jampol didn’t plan her May 19 wedding to coincide with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s nuptials. But that didn’t stop friends from speculating that she may have been secretly attempting to outdo the royal couple.
“It all makes sense: If Rebecca’s going to do anything, she’s going to do it over the top and make it a spectacular spectacle,” said Samer Fouad, who was part of Jampol’s 10-person bridal party. Jasmine Wahi, another attendant, added, “The royal wedding had heavy competition.”
Jampol’s wedding to Randy Hayes Harris Jr. was held in Newark, New Jersey’s historic Symphony Hall, an ornate concert space that seats 3,500. The couple’s 350 invitations were letter-pressed, by hand, on antique machines used by The Star-Ledger newspaper in the 1950s.
And to keep things interesting, Jampol arranged for a peacock to strut around a reception held in the concert hall’s palatial terrace ballroom while the bird’s owner, artist Ventiko, snapped shots of guests against a Dionysian backdrop of velvet, pearls and animal skulls. (This same peacock, named Dexter, gained notoriety this year when it was denied entry as an emotional-support animal for Ventiko on a United Airlines flight out of Newark.)
The scene was meant to evoke Jampol’s sense of what Newark, at its creative best, can look like. “I wanted this to be kind of a big thing for the community,” she said.
Jampol, 34, and Harris, 33, met in Newark in 2012. Their flair for the dramatic is not limited to social events. Jampol is a design professor at Rutgers University Newark and a modern art curator. With Wahi, who she calls her “art wife,” she runs a local nonprofit gallery, the Project for Empty Space, where the focus is social issues explored boldly and unflinchingly; sexual violence and immigration rights have been recent subjects.
Jampol’s local claims to fame also include the colorful 1.39-mile mural that runs along McCarter Highway, a major Newark thoroughfare. It’s the longest mural on the East Coast and the second-longest in the country, according to the Newark Downtown District, a nonprofit group dedicated to revitalizing the city’s downtown. Eighteen artists were hand-picked by Jampol in 2016 to tell visual stories about Newark’s culture and heritage.
Harris is a musician who leads a rock band, the Randy Haze Trio, and plays guitar in a jazz outfit, the Velvet Trio. He tours with rapper Justina Valentine, a cast member of MTV’s “Wild ‘N Out” comedy series, and moonlights as a carpenter and designer for art exhibitions, including the ones at the Project for Empty Space. Jampol and Harris have not been officially anointed the first couple of Newark’s art scene, but that may be only because such a designation does not exist.
“Rebecca and Randy are beautiful human beings inside and out,” said Fouad, a graphic designer on the Fine Arts faculty at Rutgers Newark. “They not only have each other’s back, they have everyone else’s in this community, too.” Harris, a Newark native, laid the groundwork for their synergetic reputation before the arrival of Jampol, who moved to Newark in 2004 from Charlottesville, Virginia, to study art at Rutgers. “Randy is like the son of Newark,” Jampol said. “It’s a this-is-his-city kind of thing.”
His magnetism first came to her attention at Hell’s Kitchen Lounge, the downtown watering hole where she was working as a bartender in 2012. “Randy was a patron at the time and I had just started my galleries,” she said, including a place on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that has since closed. Harris, whose gentle demeanor is expressed externally by a sweet smile, instantly caught her eye, though she and her then-boyfriend were in the eighth year of what would end up a 10-year relationship.
“We were attracted to each other right from the start,” Jampol said. “I felt I had to be careful around him because of it.” Harris was a Sunday night regular at Hell’s Kitchen out of necessity: He didn’t have cable and needed a place to watch “The Walking Dead.” But he soon started spending more time watching Jampol than the TV, he said. By the time he and his rock band were offered a residency playing Hell’s Kitchen on Sunday nights in 2013, he and Jampol were spending a lot of time together.
“We had the same group of friends,” said Harris, who was also in a relationship then, with the mother of his 7-year-old son, Ian. But the attraction with Jampol was undeniable. It followed him around the city to places like the Lincoln Park Music Festival, held every July, where he and Jampol spent the day together as friends in 2013, connecting through hip-hop, fried catfish and collards.
“Rebecca is super-ambitious, but she’s also caring and she makes people feel safe,” he said. “She gives them the confidence to do things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.” This confidence extended to him when, in 2014, he came back from a weekslong tour with his band single and made up his mind to pursue Jampol, who had also exited her longtime relationship. Fouad, who has known Jampol for a decade, said Harris showed guts in his attempt at maneuvering past friendship. “When I first met Rebecca, I watched her pull up on a bright yellow Vespa,” Fouad said. “She took off her helmet and it was like it was happening in slow motion in a movie. She’s beautiful and has these long, gorgeous legs.” But she quickly seemed less smoldering than big sisterly once he got to know her. “I thought she was so hot, but she ended up taking care of me.”
It’s a familiar refrain among Newark artists. “One of the things that really attracted me to Rebecca is that, through her work and the way she does things, I started seeing all the potential in this city again,” Harris said. The mural especially, with its evocations of Newark’s past and present, is a reminder of her gift for projecting the spirit of the place he knows best. “She made me fall back in love with Newark.”
Still, it was an early date outside city limits both say clinched their romance. In 2014, Jill Wickenheiser, a friend of Jampol who works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arranged for the couple to see the band Interpol there.
“She knew I loved Interpol and that I had just started dating a musician,” Jampol said. “It was hosted at the museum’s Egyptian exhibit, and we drank whiskey and geeked out to Interpol. We had a total blast. That really sealed the deal for us.”
In 2015, Harris and Jampol moved into an apartment in a prewar building in Newark’s North Ward that checked off all Jampol’s boxes for the perfect home: “I love nostalgia, history and magnificence,” she said.
A trip to San Diego the following year for a friend’s wedding moved them closer to thoughts of marriage. But despite that happy occasion, “it had been a traumatic couple of days,” Harris said. The presidential election had just happened and the outcome was not the one he wanted. “I was bawling for, like, three days,” he said.
On a post-San Diego trip down the coast to Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico, in a rented car, Jampol soothed and sympathized. “He’s an emotional guy,” she said. “But it was a beautiful trip and we learned we travel well together. I think at that moment we realized this was it for us.” The proposal that transpired a few months later, on Jampol’s 33rd birthday, Jan. 1, 2017, offered a preview of the pageant-like atmosphere that would resurface on their wedding day.
With a cluster of the locals Jampol calls their “framily,” the couple celebrated at their favorite Newark haunt, Jimenez Tobacco, a velvet-walled cigar bar opened by a Cuban woman decades ago and now run by her sons. “For a long time it was like a speakeasy, where you’d bring your own bottle of booze,” Jampol said. “Now they’ve got a liquor license and are a little more established. But they still do Prohibition-style cocktails. And it still feels like the most amazing hole-in-the-wall.” Harris signed on to DJ for the cigar bar birthday bash. But after the first few sets, he was overtaken by an urge to make the night more meaningful.
First it took the form of a performance. The Velvet Trio hadn’t yet formed, but Harris’ bandmates in that group were on hand. He recruited them to play a few songs with him including, for a final number, a cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong.”
“Rebecca was wearing a crown and I saw how beautiful she was looking and I was thinking about how happy she made me,” Harris said. “In my head I felt like the ground became kind of holy.” As the song wound down, Harris spun around, yanked a string out of the bar’s booze-soaked carpet, got down on one knee and tied the string around Jampol’s ring finger. With the entire birthday party assemblage watching, he proposed. The answer was an instant, enthusiastic yes. “I was stunned, but I was also so happy,” Jampol said.
When planning a wedding for 350, a track record for creating an artistic community can be useful. With Wahi, Jampol oversees the Gateway Project Spaces, a downtown artists’ collective with 56 studios attached to the Project for Empty Space. Besides artist Ventiko, a synthetic flower-maker, Mahtab Pedrami, was among the current or former tenants who lent their talents.
Pamela Jampol, Jampol’s mother, said the merging of so many artistic sensibilities for the occasion reflected her daughter’s longtime gift for bringing people together. “She’s always been ambitious in so many things, but especially in loving and taking good care of people.”
On May 19, the elder Jampol, a minister at Christ Community Church in Charlottesville, officiated at a short ceremony alongside Jampol’s father, Mark Jampol, and Harris’ parents, Madeline Juarbe Del Rios and Randy Hayes Harris Sr., as well as his stepfather, Roberto Del Rios. As Jampol walked with her father down the theater’s aisle to an stage covered in Pedrami’s flowers, cellist Daniel de Jesus, ethereal in white robes and pastel face paint, played and sang to the crowd. From the concert hall’s proscenium stage, 20 attendants looked on. Jampol, in a white lace dress with a 12-foot veil, and Harris, in rhinestone shoes and a paisley jacket, listened attentively as each parent spoke.
Harris Sr. recalled his son’s early-childhood flair for salsa and merengue dancing with his mother as she cooked, and ended with words of wisdom, advising the couple to keep dancing and always watch their footwork. “When life gives you a new step, be patient,” he said. But “do your dance and don’t let go.”
On This Day
When: May 19, 2018.
Where: Newark Symphony Hall.
Finery for a cause: Jampol bought her Chantilly lace dress at Church Street Bridal in Lynchburg, Virginia, a boutique that sells donated dresses to raise money for women’s shelters. Harris supported local businesses by wearing a wedding shirt handmade by Gambert Shirts in Newark’s Ironbound district.
Fit for royalty: A buffet dinner included a raw bar with lobster, crab and oysters, plus carving stations with pepper-crusted filet of beef and stuffed pork loin.
Lots of dancing: James Gibbs III, founder of the Brick City Soul Collective, led a seven-piece funk and R&B band at the reception in the terrace ballroom. The couple’s first dance was to the Bill Withers’ classic “Lovely Day.”
Smokin’ afterparty: After the reception, the couple passed out personalized cigars at Jimenez Tobacco. Musician friends, including rapper Justina Valentine, who was among Harris’ attendants, were on hand. The party continued until 1:30 a.m., then moved to another Newark location, Hell’s Kitchen Lounge.