As you enter the gates at Pursell Farms, you are greeted by a dramatically gorgeous field of Texas longhorn steers. Then you travel down a windy road through the woods and over rolling hills. Flanked by vibrant, lush green moss, this pristine paved road bends this way and that, in short and long bursts, like the strokes of a paintbrush. And with each curve, your mind begins to detangle and wander. Your pulse steadies and aligns with the natural heartbeat of your surroundings.
“Everybody who comes out here says, ‘We drive on the property, and I automatically just take a breath.’ The windy road was very purposeful, very intentional,” says Vaughan Pursell Spanjer, a Pursell Farms artist-in-residence and the daughter of David Pursell, the visionary behind the 3,200-acre luxury resort nestled in the wild foothills of Central Alabama.
Vaughan grew up on this breathtaking land long before it became the resort destination it is today. Before it offered a stunning wedding venue, event facilities and Orvis activities, the property was the first and only research and demonstration golf course in the world. David’s business, Pursell Technologies, could fly superintendents in from all over the world to see how their fertilizer was treating different grasses. As a result, the original vision was largely streamlined around men.
“I grew up in that old farmhouse you first see when you cross the bridge, which is now the Orvis clubhouse. We lived there until I was about 6, and we have the best memories of our time there. It was not as pretty as it is now,” Vaughan says with a laugh.
Vaughan and her five siblings made the farm their own personal wonderland — with a little help from their imaginative father. When they weren’t playing in the creeks, building forts and riding bikes along the trails, he’d take them on adventures and tell tall tales. “We’d load up all eight of us — six kids and two parents — on one four-wheeler. I don’t know how we all fit on there; we were much smaller then. He would take us on a fun adventure to ‘the secret place’ up on the mountain, then he’d take us down on the trails,” says Vaughan. “And I don’t even know who did it, but there were these little pots hanging on the tree branches and little things to discover, and my dad would make up these stories and legends about ‘This was the Indian trail,’ and he’d give them names like Chief Minnowah and Nanny-hoo-hoo, and we believed it all. It was just like this ‘world’ he created for us. He is super-creative, and we totally believed everything.”
Vaughan’s artistic identity is intimately intertwined with her relationship to Pursell Farms. “I think that is really where all of our creativity was encouraged, out here, because we had so much space to explore,” she says. “And my mom and dad never encouraged us to watch TV. Instead, there were always colors and markers and paints to be creative or just go outside and play.”
Before becoming an artist, Vaughan actually majored in fashion design and worked in the fashion scene in New York City, where she met her husband. Soon, the couple’s attention turned to family, and they struggled with infertility for a time. Once pregnant, Vaughn had to go on strict bed rest, where she read lots of books. Her first child, Margot was only 7 months old when Vaughan became pregnant with her son and had to go on bed rest again. She read more books and then hit a wall. “I was just like, ‘I’m done reading books. I can’t read any more books. I’m sick of watching Food Network or HGTV or whatever,’ So, I just pulled out my charcoals, and I just started drawing. I would just sit there and draw and draw and draw.” It was a form of therapy that carried her through the fear from her earlier infertility struggles and the solitude of being confined to the bed. During this time, the couple had moved to Pursell Farms, and Vaughan’s mother encouraged her to put her art out in the world for people to see.
“As an artist, it is very vulnerable to put your art out there, because it is like part of your soul,” says Vaughan. “I mean, this was a part of my journey. It was a part of me trying to seek therapy and some sort of comfort. So, the thought of putting my stuff out there and someone rejecting it was really scary.”
They printed her work on notecards and started taking them around to local boutiques. Fast-forward to today, and Vaughan has a thriving professional art career with her notecards in shops throughout the Southeast, as well as commissions from many people (including Orvis) and a collection of original works.
Today, she gives back to the farm that fostered this creativity, teaching art classes in summers, hosting sips-and-strokes-type classes for adults and helping infuse the farm’s new life as a resort destination with some feminine energy.
“It used to be geared all towards men, but now we are offering things that are more attractive and appealing to women, so it’s not just a man cave,” she says. “We have a pool, we have cooking classes, art classes, and Orvis even has this Annie Oakley shooting activity for women who enjoy shooting. We have a spa, so you can have facials and massages; a beautiful walking and biking trail, which goes around the property and has been so popular with women; complimentary yoga on the weekend for guests and a fitness facility.”
The stunning wedding venue, Hamilton Place, is the most obvious — and beautiful — manifestation of this shift toward a more female-friendly experience. The elegant event building was built to accommodate indoor and outdoor weddings and designed in the style of the historic antebellum home beside it: Hamilton House and the adjacent guest house, which is now Spring House Spa. It is an idyllic enclave that exudes timeless beauty.
And, of course, there’s the award-winning golf, sporting clays, hunting, fishing and shooting. Whether it’s a girls’ trip, a family vacation or a couple’s getaway, the farm has something for everyone. They even host al fresco movie nights on The Inn’s patio by the fire, a Fourth of July fireworks show, and you can even order a s’mores kit to enjoy by one of the many Sea Island Forge fire-pit cauldrons dotting the property.
But Vaughan’s favorite thing here is the rejuvenation that this gorgeous expanse of nature provides. “It’s truly a restful retreat. If you want rest and the time to recharge and be refreshed, this is truly the place to be. You can feel it as soon as you get on the winding road. And just to be out in nature is wonderful, and we all need that,” she says. “If you want to build relationships, it is a wonderful place to make memories. Some of our greatest memories as a family are when we would go away from it all and not be distracted and just be together. Come to just get away!”
Get away from it all, connect to nature and make memories with loved ones at Pursell Farms.
All images are courtesy of Pursell Farms unless otherwise noted.
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