Blackberry Farm’s Mary Celeste Beall: ‘You can move beyond loss eventually’
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My personal style signifier is a teeny platinum and diamond cross necklace I’ve worn for more than 20 years. It gets tangled in whatever else I add, but it’s a gentle reminder of my faith and the people who gave it to me, my in-laws. With five kids I can’t be changing my jewellery every day.
The last thing I bought and loved was a mixed-media painting of some tulips by Gordon Cheung, a British-Chinese artist who came to a charity event at the Knoxville Museum of Art. I lost out on one of his pieces at the auction but felt so connected to his work that I later bought this instead. His process is unbelievable, so meticulous; he often uses copies of the FT as the foundation for the layering process he uses.
The place that means a lot to me is our home at Blackberry Farm, which is on 5,200 acres in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. I feel so lucky that my kids can walk and run and cycle. I was in high school when I met my husband, Sam, who died [in a skiing accident] in 2016; we married when we were at college and lived at Blackberry Farm, transferring our degrees to the University of Tennessee and commuting to finish school. We then moved to San Francisco for a bit when Sam was working at The French Laundry, and slowly made our way back to Blackberry. By then it really felt like home.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Healing After Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman. A guest gave me her copy; she was ready to pass it on, which I took as a positive sign that you can move beyond a loss eventually. It is a powerful daily devotional, and although I don’t read it every day any more it always resonates. I have suffered a lot of loss in my life and seem to be a magnet for others who are grieving; I always recommend this book.
My style icon is Jackie O, but that’s not practical for me. So I’d say someone who can just throw on a pair of jeans and look amazing, like Gwyneth Paltrow. I’d feel very comfortable playing around in her closet, although I’m not sure everything would fit the same way – she does way more ab exercises.
The best gift I’ve received is a collection of handwritten letters from my children. Last Christmas I asked them not to buy me anything, but instead to answer a set of 10 questions. With five kids, I feel that I don’t always know what they want and need, so I asked them: what was the high and low point of their year; what one thing could I do for them this year; something they need help with; a place they’d like to go to with me. I asked them to spend at least an hour thinking about their answers. The sweetest thing that came through is that they can see how hard I’m trying. I’ll frame them at some point, but for now I just carry them around with me.
The last music I downloaded was by Silk Sonic, the new Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak duo. It’s got a fun, groovy 1970s vibe. And this morning I was listening to The Judds. I love classic country; I grew up in Alabama.
I have a collection of china, with hodge-podge pieces from my mother, my grandmother, my mother-in-law, and pieces picked up when travelling. Some is French, some very classic like William Yeoward, some is simple pottery. We use it rather than display it; we entertain a lot and I love setting the table.
The podcast I’m listening to is Jay Shetty’s On Purpose, which encourages me to be easier on myself, to set boundaries and to let go of things – none of which I’m very good at. Shetty is a former monk-turned-life coach with a fabulous English accent. An episode I loved was with American rapper Big Sean; I found it fascinating how wise he was – he’s young but with this really old soul.
In my fridge you’ll always find a lot of condiments, like the smoked onion jam that Sam loved and would put on everything, and hot sauce from a few places, though the one we make here in the Firetower restaurant is our favourite. Then lots of cheese: a brebis; pimento, because it’s so Southern; a wheel of something from the farm, like Hawkins Haze. And some old wilted celery. It has become a joke in our family: whenever I need celery, it’s wilted.
I’ve rediscovered that sometimes you have to face things head-on and embrace the awkwardness to get to the next step. When Sam died, I knew I couldn’t just hide. My children still needed me to be their mother and I realised I wanted to carry on guiding them and living the life their dad and I had created. Then Sam’s parents asked me to take on his role as proprietor of Blackberry Farm; I had to step up, and that meant showing up and doing things I wasn’t comfortable with.
The thing I couldn’t do without is fresh air. I love going to big cities like New York, but after 24 hours I have to get away from the neon and distractions and into Central Park to be around some trees.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a cornflower-blue linen dress from Silvia Tcherassi. It’s long, with a little cap sleeve and embroidery. I splurged – I didn’t look at the price tag until after I’d fallen for it.
An indulgence I would never forgo is a bath. I’ll always have one before bed, even at 1am, and I make the water crazy hot. I don’t do candles and music. I try to read, but I either drop my book or let it get wet. Sometimes I just want to be quiet. We have some very simple cabins at Blackberry Mountain, each one recreated out of two historical log cabins, and I had to fight hard for them to have a bathtub. There’s nothing better after a hike on a cold winter’s day.
An object I would never part with is one of my husband’s beautiful handmade olive-wood corkscrews by Laguiole. Sam was a sommelier and he grew the farm’s wine collection to become the second largest in North America. Wine is always a story in our house. The corkscrews make us feel connected to Sam, but it’s also about being together and carrying on a tradition.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Marc Chagall. My mum has a Chagall print and I have just been to the Chagall museum in Nice. I adore his colour, the energy and the biblical connection.
The beauty staple I’m never without is Tata Harper’s Hydrating Floral Essence. It’s a spritz I use before applying a serum; it’s so refreshing. £63 for 125ml, cultbeauty.co.uk
My favourite building is the Thomas Jefferson-designed Rotunda on the Lawn at the University of Virginia, where my son is studying. America doesn’t have Europe’s incredible architecture, but Jefferson designed this building to have echoes of the Pantheon.
My favourite apps are Dark Sky, the best for weather, and Greenlight, which I’m using to teach my children about money and saving. It is really important to me that they learn how to budget from a young age.
The works of art that changed everything for me are my mother’s paintings. I would go into her studio when I was growing up and watch her transform a blank canvas. I also loved seeing her focus and the way she could turn it up if she had a commission; she had to earn a living and I appreciated her business side as much as the creative one.
When I need to feel inspired, I will always go on a hike.
The best bit of advice I ever received was from someone a year after Sam died, who said “you have to put your cape on first”. I’ve had to learn to look after myself and I think it’s hard – for women especially – to do that without feeling guilty. But there is more pressure on me now, as the single parent. I am carrying my family, and there’s a constant weighing, week by week, of what I need to make time for outside of work and my kids, whether that’s yoga, a nap, having fun with my friends. I’ve also learnt how valuable quiet time is. I can’t do it all.
The best gift I’ve given recently was an antique compass necklace to my eldest daughter, which I found through a dealer in Memphis. Some friends gave me one when Sam passed away and I like the idea that someone is guiding your direction. It is gold on a beautiful chain, and she wears it every day. danesroadantiques.com
In another life I would have been an architect. I love details, especially interior details and proportions: how the mouldings relate, where the windows fall in a room, how tall they are, and so on. But I studied tax accounting at college.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is a collection of four paintings by Lorenzo Cascio that Sam and I picked up at Lorenzo’s studio in Portofino. I fell in love with his work and wanted to buy this one tiny piece, but then he started pulling things out of his archive – that was the fun part – and I’ll never forget Sam and I standing in the piazza looking at these beautiful boats debating which pieces we could afford. They are hanging in our house and I love that memory.
My beauty and wellbeing gurus are Charlotte Hardwick, a naturopath and yoga instructor I’ve known for over 20 years – I have learnt so much from her and she now gives retreats here at the farm – and Dr Mark Hyman. There are many functional medicine doctors out there, but he’s one I really trust.
My favourite rooms in my house are my bedroom – it has great light and I love sneaking off there when the house is busy – and the dining room. It has beautiful de Gournay wallpaper and lots of memories of time around the table when you can linger, no interruptions.