Four cowboys rein in their horses to stare at a Prada women’s shoe store that stands, improbably, in the middle of the Texas desert.

That sentence doesn’t describe a scene from a weird Western. It describes a photograph taken in a real town, home to a delightfully quirky, artsy community that once elected a painter to be its mayor.

You can get travel suggestions for Marfa (population: 1,788) from Vogue, Sotheby’s, or the tourism website, but here are the people and places that have helped to make Marfa so amazing.

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Minimalist Artist

Donald Judd started installing artworks around Marfa in the 1970s. It was a filming location both before (Giant, 1956) and after (No Country for Old Men, 2007) Judd was around, but the minimalist artist (Judd rejected the term sculptor) is widely credited with transforming Marfa into the cultural hub that it is today. In 1986, Judd created the Chinati Foundation, a museum specializing in minimalist art and site-specific installations. To date, the museum’s residency program has brought over 170 artists to Marfa. Meanwhile, the Judd Foundation has announced ambitious plans to restore and complete Judd’s local projects.

Oscar “El Marfa” Rodriguez (b. ?), Researcher and Public Radio Host

Honored locally as “El Marfa,” Oscar Rodriguez hosts Marfa Public Radio’s English-language program Caló, which educates listeners about the regional Spanish dialect. Recent episodes have traced Caló words to Latin or Nahuatl (Aztec) origins, as well as contrasting their meanings in Caló versus standard Spanish. For instance, huarache (sandal) has a negative connotation in Caló, so huarachar means not to walk in sandals but rather to act like an oaf. Not merely because we endeavor to discover new insults to lob at Silicon Valley, we hope El Marfa will spread knowledge of Caló far and wide.

Ann Marie Nafziger (b. 1972), Abstract Landscape Artist

Ann Marie Nafziger has lived for 20+ years in Marfa, where she has been integral to artistic and civic life. After working as Director of Programs for the Chinati Foundation, Nafziger was elected mayor in 2017. Asked about values to guide her two-year term, Nafziger said, “I just refuse to believe that we can’t find common ground.” She considers her painted landscapes “poems, daydreams, expressions of being in relationship, of belonging in nature.” As examples like Slot Canyon No. 2 (Closed Canyon) and A Wild and Gentle Landing show, the desert has found its daydreamer.

Douglas Friedman (b. 1972), Photographer

After attending film school, Douglas Friedman went to Hollywood to help make Se7en (1995), The Game (1997), and Fight Club (1999). Later, Friedman returned to his birthplace, New York City, to build a career in celebrity photography. Friedman has made portraits of Hillary Clinton and Melania Trump, captured the beauty of Iman, and showed the world Cher’s opulent home. While working mainly in L.A. and New York, Friedman prefers Marfa, “tarantulas and all.” Since moving there over a decade ago, Friedman has exulted in “endless views of this incredibly beautiful, soulful terrain.”

Big Bend Dark Sky Reserve

Marfa’s breath-taking landscape is matched by star-spangled night skies, visible in few other places on Earth. Across 15,000 square miles in southwest Texas and northern Mexico, residents have cooperated to keep light pollution low – for instance, by using shielded lights and preferring soft, amber bulbs over bluish-white ones. These efforts have maintained the area as the world’s largest Dark Sky Reserve, to the delight of astronomers and birds alike. Stargazers can borrow a telescope from the Marfa Public Library, or simply look up to see the Milky Way gloriously revealed.

CineMarfa Film Festival (est. 2011)

Another of Marfa’s wonderful improbabilities is CineMarfa, an annual film festival at the Crowley Theater. In 2011, CineMarfa’s founders set out “to bring artist-made films usually screened in galleries and museums to viewers in Far West Texas.” They suffered setbacks due to the pandemic, but happily, the festival resumed in 2023. As a local newspaper reported, the program included a “Made in Marfa” collection, two retro LaserDisc events, and a teaser for It Gets Worse, a Marfa-based cartoon. We hope the series gets made so that we can simultaneously indulge our bad attitude and love for Marfa.

Cochineal (est. 2017), Restaurant

Alexandra Gates, chef and co-owner of Cochineal, specializes in an unusual kind of fusion, where European cuisine meets down-to-earth West Texan flavors, including hyperlocal ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden. As a telling example, Gates published her recipe for wild boar meatballs à la Marfa in Garden & Gun magazine. Gates opened Cochineal after working as Executive Chef for Austin’s Hotel Saint Celia. In 2020, Gates was honored as a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Texas’ top chef. To try one of her prix fixe menus, e-mail her staff well in advance, because tables fill up fast!

Convenience West (est. 2017), BBQ Joint

After Convenience West made The Texas Monthly’s list of top 50 barbecue vendors, pitmaster Mark Scott, his mom, his wife, and satisfied customers were interviewed by Chet “The Daytripper” Garner for BBQ Cooler Talks. When Garner asked Scott why he opened his restaurant in Marfa, Scott responded simply, “I live here.” Convenience West serves barbecue and unorthodox sides – notably, “carrot dip dip” – on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 pm until the grub runs out. You can order sauce by mail for $12 per bottle, but Convenience West is worth a long road trip.

That’s our roundup!

We’ll be back soon with another, unless we abscond to La Tierra, the solitary desert beauty which almost makes us reconsider our resistance to marriage – or to elopement, at least.

Until next time, find some creativity wherever you can. Stay safe, and be well. #StandCreative