Remote yet refined, the tiny West Texas town of Marfa (pop. 1,899) has become a surprising center of art and culture — and the fashionistas current location du jour.
It’s all Donald Judd’s fault. Without his colonization of Presidio County in the mid-1970s, Marfa might just be known in cinematic footnotes as the location of the 1956 Elizabeth Taylor/Rock Hudson/James Dean film Giant.
But it was Judd’s move to Marfa in 1973 and subsequent establishment of the Chinati Foundation on the 340-acre grounds of the former U.S. Army Fort D.A. Russell that put this tiny Texan town on the map. Today, Chinati is just a small part of Marfa’s artistic focus.
“You really have to work to get there, but I love shooting there,” says Dallas photographer Thom Jackson. “The isolation is wonderful, and it gives you room to create.”
The Judd Foundation also maintains tours of its Architecture Studio, Art Studio, and Cobb and Whyte Houses, and galleries — from the cutting-edge nonprofit Ballroom Marfa to the emerging artist-focused Galleri Urbane — show a wide range of work, including painting, photography, film and sculpture.
Where the artists go, the adventurers follow, and last year’s 60 Minutes expose of Marfa as “The Capital of Quirkiness” only confirmed the town’s reputation. You might as well not be on Instagram unless you’ve got a shot leaping in front of the Prada Marfa installation in nearby Valentine, Texas. The place has most definitely reached critical hipster mass.
They may descend during October’s Chinati weekend, or for the annual Trans-Pecos Festival of Music & Love at El Cosmico, but on an average weekend you could still spot the likes of Natalie Portman dining in the environs of the foodie haven that is Cochineal.
These days, you’re also likely to see crews from Nordstrom, GQ or British Vogue shooting on the dusty streets. Local location manager and producer Ginger Griffice (who mans the Marfa Soap Company on the side) helped put these — and other — projects together. She says that the town’s perfect storm of light and location make it a photographer’s dream.
“In 2006, There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men were both shot here, and a lot of creative directors got interested [in Marfa],” she says. “The light and the landscape can’t be understated; at different times of the year, the light is different, the grass changes.
“Also, everyone has a great time here. There’s an independent spirit the West is known for that you can pretend you’re part of for a second.”
For the images (originally for Models.com) shot on a ranch outside the city limits, Swedish model Julia Hafstrom, Dallas-based photographer Thom Jackson and New York casting agent Andrew Weir channeled that same pioneering spirit, resulting in the rustic yet enchanting shots you see in the slideshow above.
Jackson, who has shot in Marfa for multiple clients, says the town and its environs are “getting a lot of play because of the remoteness. You really have to work to get there, but I love shooting there.
“It’s wide-open spaces, and the arts community exists alongside ranchers and cattle people. The isolation is wonderful, and it gives you room to create.”
Hafstrom (who has previously worked with brands such as Dior, Tommy Hilfiger and Prada and photographers like Steven Meisel, Craig McDean and Mario Testino) found her West Texas sojourn an inspiring experience, especially the chance to climb on rocks and up cattle chutes in ultra-high St. Laurent heels.
“I’ve always loved location shooting, because you can get a feel of the pictures,” she explains. “It’s more emotional, and you challenge yourself. And Marfa is very cool. The town is so special and trendy; it’s a different place in the middle of nowhere.”
Here’s more of what makes Marfa a must-see destination:
Ballroom Marfa, 108 E. San Antonio St.
Visual art, film and music collide at this avant-garde space right in the center of town.
Chinati Foundation, One Cavalry Row
The epic contemporary art museum featuring permanent installations by Donald Judd, John Chamberlain and Dan Flavin, among others, can be viewed through self and guided private and group tours.
Eugene Binder Gallery, 218 Highland St.
A can’t-miss modernist gallery with painting, installation and performance on view.
The Ice Plant, 100 N. Nevill St.
The Chinati Foundation is unveiling the newest work of internationally acclaimed New York artist Zoe Leonard, on view through December 2014.
Judd Foundation, 104 Highland Ave.
For a deeper look at Judd’s private living and working spaces, visitors can tour Judd’s multiple properties around downtown Marfa.
A permanent sculpture by artists Elmgreen and Gragset (at least until the Texas Department of Transportation has its way), Prada Marfa is a must-see photo op for all visitors. To save the installation until you get there, visit Save Prada Marfa.
El Cosmico, 802 S. Highland Ave.
Not quite glamping, hotelier Liz Lambert’s mix of teepees, tents and trailers is nonetheless a bohemian rhapsody for adventurous travelers.
Hotel Paisano, 207 Highland St.
The headquarters for the cast and crew of Giant, the hotel still features Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor suites, plus an onsite gallery, gift shop and restaurant.
Marfa House on the Hill, 201 S. Aparejo St.
This stylish turn-of-the-century adobe home was refurbed by Dallas landscape designer Robert Bellamy. It is available to rent to Marfa visitors.
Thunderbird Marfa, 601 W. San Antonio St.
A classic ’50s motel, updated for the modern age with industrial interiors that mix wood and concrete to aesthetic perfection.
Cochineal, 107 W. San Antonio St.
Fresh ingredients are hard to come by in Marfa, but you wouldn’t know it dining at Cochineal. Opened by two ex-pat New York restaurateurs, everything on the menu is effortlessly delicious — especially the legendary date pudding.
Fat Lyle’s, 719 S. Highland Ave.
Daily specials and sandwiches abound, but Tuesday-night tacos are what the locals love.
Future Shark, 120 N. Highland Ave.
Marfa’s beloved Food Shark trailer’s brick-and-mortar offshoot serves up healthy cuisine for breakfast and lunch in a modern cafeteria environment.
Maiya’s Restaurant, 103 Highland St.
A Marfa institution since 2002, Maiya’s offers tasty (if slightly overpriced) Italian.
Pizza Foundation, 102 U.S. 90
Even East Coast pizza snobs admit the Pizza Foundation knows its dough. Go early, as these thin-crust pies have a tendency to sell out.
Lost Horse Saloon, 306 E. San Antonio St.
Marfa’s dive bar deluxe run by an eye-patch-wearing cowboy, the Lost Horse offers cold beer and live tunes.
Padres, 209 W. El Paso St.
National touring bands, pool tables, decent burgers, funky décor and a cool patio make this Austin-esque spot a nightlife must.
Cast + Crew, 203 E. San Antonio St.
This Etsy shop has expanded to a physical location, offering revamped 20 century modern furniture.
Cobra Rock Boot Company, 107 S. Dean St.
Its first style — the perfectly designed unisex South Highland Boots — is a fashion blogger must-have. Now the dynamic shoemaking duo has introduced a second style worth adding yourself to wait list.
Freda, 207 S. Highland Ave.
A Lilliputian lifestyle store, Freda has a little bit of everything — from Pamela Love jewelry to vintage LPs.
Garza Furniture, 103 Nevill St.
Garza’s designers created the furniture for Austin’s beloved Hotel San Jose, and the saddle leather designs only get better with age. Call ahead: The showroom is only open by appointment.
Marfa Book Co., 105 S. Highland Ave.
A expansive selection of Texan authors, plus poetry readings and a backroom gallery, make this downtown bookshop a cultural destination.
Tienda M, 108 S. Highland Ave.
Tienda M offers the simply styled, luxe Dosa clothing line along with accessories and gifts.
Wrong, 110 W. Dallas St.
Housed in a former church, Camp Bosworth and Buck Johnson’s shop and gallery features quirky gifts and ongoing guest art exhibits along with Bosworth’s jaw-dropping hand-carved works in wood.