Want to know how to propose like one of DC’s top sommeliers? We got the scoop on Erik Segelbaum’s elaborate engagement at the Smithsonian’s African Art Museum.
It was roughly two years ago when Segelbaum, a recognized figure in the DC restaurant community, started thinking about how to propose to his girlfriend of four years, Ryann Deering. The pair met while working in the hospitality industry and have been inseparable ever since. “I knew we belonged together and that a grand gesture was necessary for proposing,” says Segelbaum. So, what better place to pop the question than their favorite Smithsonian museum? From creating a secret email for discussing logistics, to building a mock exhibit, here’s how he pulled off a wow-worthy proposal.
The Location: Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art
Thanks to his career, Segelbaum has been a bystander to many (maybe too many) restaurant proposals. So he knew he wanted his engagement to be somewhere unique and also in a way that hadn’t been done before. “Ryann and I love visiting museums,” he says, noting they’ve especially grown a liking to the Smithsonian’s African Art Museum. So, it was a no-brainer that the underground art institute was the ideal setting.
The Plan: “The Reverse Heist”
Typically heists involve stealing a diamond, but if you want to know how to propose in a museum, then it’s, well, the exact opposite. Segelbaum, instead, had the engagement ring placed inside the museum’s “Good as Gold” exhibit—a display of all the most powerful female Senegalese jewelers. But how did he get the museum’s staff to go along with such an elaborate plan? “At first they were hesitant to the idea,” Segelbaum says. But once he started explaining the details, they were taken by his story—”caught up in the romanticism,” he says. Eager to make the magical moment come to life, the museum helped Segelbaum design a case, stand, and label with proper text so that the engagement ring looked like it belonged in the exhibit. “I worked with the Smithsonian for months,” he says. He even created a secret email account—firstname.lastname@example.org—just for communicating so that Ryann wouldn’t find out.
The Ring: Oval-Cut Diamond
The sparkler itself was its own work of art. To find the perfect rock, Erik actually got in touch with a jeweler in California who sources jewelry for celebrities. After picking out the ring, a 2.5-carat oval-cut solitaire set in platinum, Segelbaum had it shipped to the Smithsonian where they kept it in one of their vaults until the big day. Talking about a mastermind.
The Proposal: A South African Wine Class Turns Into An Engagement
In order to get Ryann to the museum, Erik told her he was teaching a South African wine class there and they were invited to a luncheon beforehand. “That way she would be dressed up without it being suspicious,” says Erik. At the museum, the Smithsonian’s events team had a few tricks of their own. They kept the proposal foolproof by taking the couple on a (fake) walk-through of where the wine class would be and then suggested they kill some time by exploring the museum—specifically the must-see “Good as Gold” exhibit. From there, Erik’s plan came to life. As they were walking around the exhibit, Ryann stumbled upon the piece and stopped. “She saw her name on the case and was like ‘Wait—what is going on?’ ” says Segelbaum. On display was the oval-cut ring with the text that read, “On loan from the collection of Ryann Deering Gifted to her on May 9, 2019 on the occasion of her engagement to Erik Segelbaum.” And how did she respond to this dreamy proposal? After Erik swiftly removed the case, retrieved the ring, and got down on one knee, Ryann knelt too, and burst into happy tears. “Everyone was crying,” Erik says, and one by one employees of the museum—from the light director who lit the case to the mount maker who mounted the ring—came over to not only congratulate the couple, but also to tell Ryann how they pulled it all off. A grand DC proposal for the books.
With friends and family all over Europe, the pair plan to wed next summer in Portugal.