Travelblogue V: Marfa, Texas (art not included)

I have nothing to say about Donald Judd, the Chinati Foundation, or the art scene of Marfa—only because we added it to our itinerary as a lark…a way out-of-the-way, too short, and (now we know) blessed lark. We knew we were supposed to be visiting because of those things, and we knew it would be difficult because of our arrival during the Film Festival. We got there at dusk one night and left before noon the next day. Most accommodations were reserved and we had struggled to book lodging (and only lucked out because of cancellations).

We had each done only vague research about the exact location of Prada Marfa along Highway 90 and sped right past it (how is that even possible? It’s surrounded by nothing, right on the road!) in our haste to get to the Thunderbird Motel and check in (and outrun the rainstorm). 


But even without the aforementioned attractions, even with no luck getting into one of the cool restaurants (Dairy Queen dinner FTW, complete with West Texas houseflies!), even just driving around mostly deserted streets of mostly vacant-looking buildings, we were besotted. Everyone was friendly and had generous grins (except for the one hipster waiter who told us to forget getting a table). We circled past two folks sitting on the pavement in the middle of the street playing guitar and singing—almost willing us to stop and acknowledge their civic transgression with hopeful smiles. Truly free spirits or self-conscious and attention-seeking? Who cares?

We, too, would have sat there, had we brought guitars. We, too, leapt up from our DQ sundaes half an hour before the sun went completely down and raced 30 miles back up highway 90 to find the missed Prada Marfa before the incredible, big light left. We, too, stood in the middle of the blank road and turned around and around, sniffing the peculiarly fragrant air (I’ve since learned there are native plants there that would have been new to me and are unique to the area), marveling at the temperature drop, making common cause with the Australian guys who saw us stop and got out to take a few pictures, felt our hearts race with joy even as our heartbeats slowed. We, too, hopped through grass (WATCH OUT FOR RATTLESNAKES, CHAD MILLER!) to look at old, de-commissioned windmills. 


Another small town we had visited seemed like a produced memory of a gold rush spirit, propped up by artifice, Old West reenactments, and bags of feed to purchase for the quasi-domesticated wild burros. Marfa, on the other hand, was buzzing with the rubbing up against each other of heritage (old family-owned store names retained on buildings), hunger (of new residents to make a life where Making A Life of making art was actually possible and non-exhausting), and hope (that old and new—politically disparate—Marfans co-existing might provide a counter-lesson to, say, what we see in legislatures). 


It’s no wonder I slept like a baby, even as trains whistled just behind my room in the night. It’s no wonder we schemed about how to get back, even as we were driving out of town. It’s no wonder we looked at real estate prices and fantasized about opening various businesses.

And all without ever even getting to the art.

Jenifer Ward is the Editor of Off Paper and Dean of the College at Cornish College of the Arts. Read installment #1, #2,  #3 and #4 here!

One Response to “Travelblogue V: Marfa,Texas (art not included)”

Chad says:

  1. July 16, 2013 at 12:53 am

    Without a doubt, there are two lives being led in Marfa: those of the artists that have taken up studio there and the farmers/ranchers of Marfa/Alpine. At the Thunderbird Motel, you’ll see the artists. At the Dairy Queen, you’ll see the native townsfolk (and flies).

    What I didn’t realize until we were driving away is that this town of two lives perfectly mirrors the lives that Jenifer currently is living: the artist/the spectator and pre-operation/post-operation. Jenifer truly came alive, as it were, while we were traveling through Marfa and that in itself was its own lively adventure as I watched the resurrection of an artist left dormant.