Monday, April 15, 2013

Marfa, TX

Presidio County courthouse in Marfa

Marfa is a town in the high desert of far West Texas and the county seat of Presidio County. Located between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park, the population was 1,981 as of the 2010 United States Census. The town was founded in the early 1880's as a railroad stop, the population increased during World War II, but the growth stalled and reversed somewhat during the late 20th century.

Today Marfa is a tourist destination. Attractions include artisan shops, historical architecture, a classic Texas town square, modern art at the Chinati Foundation, art galleries and the Marfa lights. (Morley Safer did one of his signature pieces on CBS' 60 Minutes on the town, its history and quirkiness on April 14, 2013.)


Marfa was founded in the early 1880's as a railroad water stop. The town derives its name from the wife of a railroad executive, who reportedly suggested the name "Marfa" after reading the name in the Fyodor Dostoevsky novel The Brothers Karamazov. The town grew quickly during the 1920s. The Marfa Army Airfield served as a training facility for several thousand pilots during World War II, including the American actor Robert Sterling, before closing in 1945. The base was also used as the training ground for many of the U.S. Army's Chemical mortar battalions.

Arts and cultural life

The area is known for its artists and artisans. Marfa is home to Cobra Rock Boot Company.

Modern Art

In 1971, Donald Judd, the renowned minimalist artist, moved to Marfa from New York City. After renting summer houses for a couple of years he bought two large hangars and some smaller buildings, and started to permanently install his art. While this started with his building in New York, the buildings in Marfa allowed him to install his works on a larger scale. In 1976 he bought the first of two ranches that would become his primary places of residence, continuing a long love affair with the desert landscape surrounding Marfa. Later, with assistance from the Dia Art Foundation in New York, Judd acquired decommissioned Fort D.A. Russell, and began transforming the fort's buildings into art spaces in 1979. Judd's vision was to house large collections of individual artists' work on permanent display, as a sort of anti-museum. Judd believed that the prevailing model of a museum, where art is shown for short periods of time, does not allow the viewer an understanding of the artist or their work as they intended.

Since Judd's death in 1994, two foundations have been working to maintain his legacy: the Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation. Every year The Chinati Foundation holds an Open House event where artists, collectors, and enthusiasts come from around the world to visit Marfa's art. Since 1997 Open House has been co-sponsored by both foundations and attracts thousands of visitors from around the world. In 2008, the Chinati Foundation changed the format of the Open House weekend, eliminating various events. This significantly reduced the number of visitors. The Chinati Foundation now occupies more than 10 buildings at the site and has on permanent exhibit work by artists such as Ingólfur Arnarson, Dan Flavin, and Claes Oldenburg. In recent years, a new wave of artists has moved to Marfa to live and work. As a result, new gallery spaces have opened in the downtown area. Furthermore, The Lannan Foundation has established a writers-in-residency program, a Marfa theater group has formed, and a multi-functional art space called Ballroom Marfa has begun to show art films, host musical performances, and exhibit other art installations. The city is 37 miles (60 km) from Prada Marfa, a pop art exhibit.


Marker of Marfa
Marfa is home to NPR-affiliated station KRTS. Marfa houses the offices of the Big Bend Sentinel, a weekly newspaper covering the areas of Marfa, Fort Davis, Presidio, and far west Texas. Marfa Magazine is a yearly publication distributed out of Marfa Texas, founded and operated by Johnny Calderon, Jr. It focuses on current issues and general information about Marfa, Alpine, and Fort Davis.


Various movie productions have filmed in and around parts of Marfa. The 1956 Warner Bros. film Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Sal Mineo, Carroll Baker and Dennis Hopper, was filmed in Marfa for two months. Director George Stevens actively encouraged the townspeople to visit the set, either to watch the shooting, visit with the cast and crew, or take part as extras, dialect coaches, bit players, and stagehands. In August 2006, two movie production units filmed in Marfa: There Will Be Blood, an adaptation of the Upton Sinclair novel Oil! directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and the Coen Brothers' adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel No Country for Old Men. Larry Clark's 2012 film Marfa Girl was filmed exclusively in Marfa. Also, Far Marfa, written and directed by Cory Van Dyke, made its debut in 2012.  Additionally, various musical artists have filmed music videos in the town, including Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Between the Buried and Me, and Diamond Rings. In 2008, Marfa held the first annual Marfa Film Festival, which lasted from May 1–5.

 Marfa lights
Official viewing platform, east of Marfa
Outside of Donald Judd and modern art, Marfa may be most famous for the Marfa lights, visible on clear nights between Marfa and the Paisano Pass when one is facing southwest (toward the Chinati Mountains). According to the Handbook of Texas Online, " times they appear colored as they twinkle in the distance. They move about, split apart, melt together, disappear, and reappear. Presidio County residents have watched the lights for over a hundred years. The first historical record of them dates to 1883.  Presidio County has built a viewing station nine miles east of town on U.S. 67 near the site of the old air base. Each year, enthusiasts gather for the annual Marfa Lights Festival. The lights have been featured and mentioned in various media, including the television show Unsolved Mysteries and an episode of King of the Hill ("Of Mice and Little Green Men") and in an episode of Disney Channel Original Series So Weird. A book by David Morrell, 2009's The Shimmer, was inspired by the lights. The Rolling Stones mention the "lights of Marfa" in the song "No Spare Parts" from the 2011 re-release of their 1978 album Some Girls.


Hotel Paisano and the Presidio County courthouse
Marfa is served by the Marfa Independent School District. Marfa Elementary School and Marfa Junior/Senior High School, a part of the district, serve the city. Marfa International School, a private school, opened its doors in 2012, serving students grades 1-8 with scholarships available based on need. As of October 1, 2009 the city no longer has a local police department. The Presidio County Sheriff's Department patrols the city as well as the county as a whole. Presidio County also operates the Marfa Municipal Airport, located north of the city in unincorporated Presidio County. Commercial air service is available at either Midland International Airport, 180 miles (290 km) northeast, or El Paso International Airport, 190 miles (310 km) northwest. Greyhound Lines operates an intercity bus service from the Western Union office, and Amtrak's Sunset Limited, which operates between New Orleans and Los Angeles, passes through the city, but does not stop. The nearest station is located in Alpine.

External Links

Source: Internet

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