By Peter Carlin
September 16, 1996 12:00 PM

AMY CARTER’S WEDDING, IT should be said, was a lot like the bride: quiet, creative and defiantly unique. The daughter of the 39th President not only baked her own cake and spoke her vows beneath a trellis fashioned from her old swing set, but she also made certain her father didn’t plan on giving her away to her groom. As former President Jimmy Carter proudly revealed after the alfresco ceremony near Plains, Ga., “Amy said she didn’t belong to anyone.”

She’ll always be her own person, but Amy, 28 and a candidate for a master’s degree in art history at Tulane University, has given her heart to Jim Wentzel, a 28-year-old computer consultant for the University of New Orleans. The couple told their families of their plans in mid-July, then spent the next few weeks arranging for the Sept. 1 wedding. Held at the Pond House, the home of Jimmy Carter’s mother, the late Miss Lillian, the celebration, attended by 140 friends and family members, was “a very sweet, very simple affair,” according to Ruth Carter, the wife of the former President’s cousin.

The path to the altar was suitably romantic: In 1994 the former First Daughter took a summer job at Chapter 11, an Atlanta bookstore where Wentzel was manager. Never mind that she was already engaged to Brown University classmate Michael Antonucci, who had moved with her to Memphis while she attended the Memphis College of Art; she soon broke off that relationship and went to New Orleans, where she will live with her husband. “It’s very exciting for us,” confessed Jim Wentzel Sr., a retired Mobil Oil executive who lives with wife Judy in Herndon, Va. “We’re getting some nice in-laws.” At the Aug. 31 rehearsal dinner, the former chief executive enthused to a waitress, “My baby is getting married.”

Perhaps because she spent four years of her childhood in the White House, Amy Carter has guarded her privacy jealously as an adult. Still, she and Wentzel spent Labor Day weekend making the rounds at dinners and brunches thrown for them in Plains and attending a shower, where they collected some traditional booty: towels and Wedgwood dinnerware. At the rehearsal dinner at the Windsor Hotel in nearby Americus, friends and family ate caviar and chicken in puff pastry and took turns toasting—and teasing—the couple. When Carter joked that his prospective son-in-law might want to cut his hair, wife Rosalynn quickly made it clear that Wentzel’s new family loves him, ponytail and all.

On the wedding day, festivities began with a brunch at the Carters’ house in Plains, where guests tossed Frisbees and played soccer in the light drizzle. By early afternoon, celebrants—including Amy’s brothers Jack, Chip and Jeff and their families—began departing for the Pond House and the 4 p.m. service. Accompanied by both parents, the bride emerged in a 1920s hand-embroidered sheer dress and walked down a path of pine straw and magnolia leaves. Attired in a black suit and bright blue shirt, Wentzel waited beneath the trellis, where Baptist minister Rev. Daniel Ariail performed the brief ceremony. Afterward the couple cut into Amy’s three-tiered cake, which featured a multicolored mosaic of edible icing and a kicked-back bride and groom lazing on the icing.

Not that Amy’s vision of the future involves indolence. “She wants to become a great artist,” the former President told reporters outside the wedding gate. “She’s very strong-willed.” And, it seems, political enough to roar into her new life in a car adorned, not with tin cans and crepe paper, but with a pro-choice bumper sticker.