Marfa, Texas : a historical and cultural geography




Shafer, Mary Kathleen

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Marfa is a town in far west Texas, three hours to the nearest commercial airport and one hour from the U.S.-Mexico border. The cultural landscape of Marfa includes a historic yet dying ranching community plagued by drought, as well as the remnants of a former military fort turned modern art museum. Marfa’s slow shift from being just another small town to the darling of the art world has taken over twenty years, and its placement on a global cultural map has contributed to the commoditization of its place. Its evolution has been the work of its full and part time residents: those artists and arts patrons who were inspired to migrate to Marfa because of the artist Donald Judd. These people stayed because they saw the same potential and beauty that originally drew the legendary artist in the early 1970s, and by way of their actions Marfa has developed into a remarkable center of tourism that is no longer dependent on Donald Judd’s vision. The goal of this study is to investigate the space and place of Marfa using a range of methods from cultural geography and will contain a visual component. This multiperspectival approach will provide a historical picture of Marfa’s shifting identity from ranching and railroad to art and tourism, against a background of a largely Hispanic community.


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