The Artistry of A Farming Community

Part farm, part artist’s retreat builds new way of life

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

Driving through Purdon on a grey December afternoon may not sound like most scenic of drives, but there was a sense of beauty passing through a tunnel entirely made of trees in order to reach the unassuming gates of the Purdon Groves farm.

Samson, a large, white Great Pyrenees rescue dog, curiously eyed the new arrivals to his farm as Sherry Clark, owner of Purdon Groves, pulled up in her truck. She and her husband Houston recently traded the uptown high-rise life of Dallas to build a new home that is part farm, part artist’s community, and something a little more.

The Clarks currently live in downtown Corsicana, where they commute to their farm to take care of their animals and garden. Having lived in Dallas since 2012, the couple began looking for property they could retreat to on the weekends, while providing a place for artists and others to find inspiration.

Sherry Clark feeds some of the donkeys that roam about Purdon Groves – Photo by Guy Chapman

In 2017, the Clarks found the Purdon property, which provided everything they wanted. To prepare for their move, the couple moved closer to the Dallas Farmer’s Market, making connections and building relationships with people in the community, before moving to Corsicana a year and a half ago to begin work on their ideas.

“It’s actually been surprisingly easy,” Clark said of the transition to a smaller town. “As a writer, I was used to going to coffee shops in downtown Dallas to do my writing, and now I’ve got coffee shops just a few doors down from our loft.”

Clark said she and her husband plan to move to the farm in a few months to live there full-time. A self-described “indoorsy person,” Clark says the move from Corsicana to their farm has been great, though its new challenges have been a real learning experience.

“I just learn something almost every day. It just boggles my mind how crazy and different it is from life in the city,” Clark said. “Time is of a premium now.”

Regardless, Clark has found balance in her new lifestyle.

“Knowing that I can come back into town, it’s not like I’ve moved hours away or anything,” Clark laughed. “It will be close enough to where I can come into town a couple of days a week and hang out at Mita’s or whatever coffee shop or restaurant I want to.”

Clark will be handling the hospitality portion of the farm, which includes “glamping,” short for “glamourous camping.”

Instead of the more traditional “roughing it” nature of outdoor tent life, the Purdon Groves experience offers a climate controlled interior, featuring electricity, food refrigeration, and extra amenities such as a French press, electric kettle, and hotel style bedding with nice mattresses. For the evening’s arriving guests, a cake had been left inside the refrigerator.

Though Purdon Groves is designed as a creative space for artists, though anyone can book a reservation from their website.

“It’s like being in a hotel room, but nature is just outside your tent flap,” Clark said as she walked out of the tent. She paused a moment to playfully chide Samson, who was in the process of trying to steal the cake’s empty box for his own personal collection.

Samson, a rescue puppy who guards the farm’s animals, is still learning his way in his new home. – Photo by Guy Chapman

Having creatives regularly visit come to the farm provides a mutual benefit for both artists and the Clarks. The couple offers a work exchange program where visitors can help take care of the property and its collection of donkeys, pigs, and chickens for an opportunity to spend time in a quiet place designed to inspire. Clark said the extra help has built a community on the farm while adding a lot of value to the overall experience.

“One of the main reasons that we created Purdon Groves is so that we could provide a place for creatives to come and make it where they could work the farm for three hours in the morning, and they could spend the night for free,” Clark said. “Or if they didn’t want to work, and if they weren’t working on their craft and just wanted a vacation, we could give them a half price night.”

The place has been a popular spot for writers, videographers, and photographers, largely coming from metroplex areas such as Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth.

“We feel like it inspires people,” Clark said of the property. “Just being able to slow down and do something that’s totally different from what they would normally be doing, provides a mindspace to be able to be creative.”

Purdon Groves also hosts “Chef’s Table” dinner experiences, where Executive Chef Tanner Purdum has served guests various food and wine pairings, while explaining his cooking methods. Resident artists have also attended dinners to speak to guests, sharing stories of their own creative journeys.

Due to the current climate, the farm offers socially distanced tours of the property, and Clark is looking forward to expanding what Purdon Groves has to offer. Future plans include hosting a daytime writer’s retreat, art and “maker” showcases and demonstrations, and food trucks, and Chef Purdum bringing his pizza oven.

The end of the tour featured a look at the hydroponics station, where various varieties of lettuce are grown. During Clark’s presentation, Ruth, one the farm’s donkeys, snuck in along with several of her associates, nosing around the gated area, before having to be herded out.

As the sun began to set, Clark waved good-bye while Samson waited impatiently for his dinner. Closing the gates to Purdon Groves behind us and driving through the tunnel of trees on the way home, the Navarro County Gazette staff reflected on the nature meets luxury experience found just a few minutes outside of Corsicana.