Marfa, Texas

Marfa, Texas
Marfa, Texas
—  City  —
Location of Marfa, Texas
Coordinates: 30°18′43″N 104°1′29″W / 30.31194°N 104.02472°W / 30.31194; -104.02472Coordinates: 30°18′43″N 104°1′29″W / 30.31194°N 104.02472°W / 30.31194; -104.02472
Country United States
State Texas
County Presidio
 - Total 1.6 sq mi (4.1 km2)
 - Land 1.6 sq mi (4.1 km2)
 - Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 4,685 ft (1,428 m)
Population (2010)
 - Total 1,981
 - Density 1,354.6/sq mi (523.0/km2)
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC-6)
 - Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP code 79843
Area code(s) 432
FIPS code 48-46620[1]
GNIS feature ID 1340942[2]

Marfa is a town in the high desert of far West Texas in the Southwestern United States. Located between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park, it is also the county seat of Presidio County. The population was 1,981 at the 2010 census.

Marfa was founded in the early 1880s as a railroad water stop, and grew quickly through the 1920s. Marfa Army Airfield (Fort D.A. Russell) was located east of the town during World War II and trained several thousand pilots before closing in 1945 (the abandoned site is still visible ten miles (16 km) east of the city). The base was also used as the training ground for many of the U.S. Army's Chemical mortar battalions.

Despite its small size, today Marfa is a tourist destination. Attractions include the historical architecture and classic Texas town square, modern art at the Chinati Foundation and in galleries around town, and the Marfa lights.

Amateur etymologist Barry Popik has shown that Marfa is named after Marfa Strogoff, a character in the Jules Verne novel Michael Strogoff and its theatrical adaptation; the origin was reported in the Galveston Daily News on December 17, 1882, after the Marfa railroad station was established but before Marfa received a post office in 1883.

The Handbook of Texas states that the wife of a railroad executive reportedly suggested the name "Marfa" after reading the name in the Fyodor Dostoevsky novel The Brothers Karamazov.[3]



Marfa is in the Chihuahuan Desert

Marfa is located at 30°18′43″N 104°1′29″W / 30.31194°N 104.02472°W / 30.31194; -104.02472 (30.311863, -104.024779)[4]. According to the United States Census Bureau, Marfa has a total area of 1.6 square miles (4.1 km2), all land. The city is located in the Chihuahuan Desert, an underdeveloped region of about 140,000 square miles (~362,600 km²). There is less than one person per square mile in the area.[citation needed]

Modern art and minimalism

Hotel Paisano and the Presidio County courthouse

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, some smaller buildings and started to permanently install his art. While this started with his building in New York, the buildings in Marfa (now The Block, Judd Foundation) 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 Carl Andre, Ingólfur Arnarson, John Chamberlain, Dan Flavin, Roni Horn, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long, Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen, John Wesley, and David Rabinowitch.

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.

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 recalls that in 1883 a young cowhand, Robert Reed Ellison, saw a flickering light while he was driving cattle through Paisano Pass and wondered if it was the campfire of Apache Indians. He was told by other settlers that they often saw the lights, but when they investigated they found no ashes or other evidence of a campsite.[5]

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.

These objects 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, however the producers/writers had made the countryside of Marfa as a forest area instead of a desert area which Marfa is actually located in. A fictional book by David Morrell, 2009's The Shimmer, is inspired by the lights. The metalcore group Between the Buried and Me make a reference in the song "Obfuscation" (2009).

Filming of Giant and other films

Marker of Marfa

The famous 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 did not have a closed set and actively encouraged the townspeople to come by, either to watch the shooting, or visit with the cast and crew, or take part as extras, dialect coaches, bit players and stagehands.

In August 2006, two movie production units used locations in and around Marfa: the film 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.[6][7]

The 1976 play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, and its 1982 film adaptation, were set in and around Marfa. The film, however, was not shot there.

In 2008, Marfa held the first annual Marfa Film Festival, which lasted from May 1–5.

The music video of 'Home' by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros ends in Marfa with a sign reading 'GOODBYE MARFA, TX!!'

The music video of 'Obfuscation' by Between the Buried and Me is set in Marfa.


Downtown view of Marfa from atop the Courthouse

According to the latest U.S. census[1] of 2010, there were 1,981 people, 864 households, and 555 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,354.6 people per square mile (521.6/km²). There were 1,126 housing units at an average density of 719.1 per square mile (276.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 91% White, 0.28% African American, 0.38% Native American, 0.05% Asian, 7.50% from other races, and 0.75% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 69.9% of the population.

There were 863 households out of which 29.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.4% were married couples living together, 13.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.6% were non-families. 31.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 2.99.

In the city the population was spread out with 24.9% under the age of 18, 7.9% from 18 to 24, 24.2% from 25 to 44, 24.5% from 45 to 64, and 18.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 101.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.9 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $24,712, and the median income for a family was $32,328. Males had a median income of $25,804 versus $18,382 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,636. About 15.7% of families and 20.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.6% of those under age 18 and 26.9% of those age 65 or over.


Marfa High School

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.

Law enforcement

As of October 1, 2009 the city no longer has a local police department. The Presidio County Sheriff patrols the city as well as the county as a whole.


Marfa is home to NPR-affiliated station KRTS.

Marfa Magazine is a yearly publication distributed out of Marfa Texas, founded and operated by Johnny Calderon, Jr. Marfa Magazine focuses on current issues and general information about Marfa, Alpine, and Fort Davis.


Marfa operates the Marfa Municipal Airport, located north of the city in unincorporated Presidio County and serving general aviation. 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.

TimeCar, a car sharing company, rents vehicles by the hour or by the day. Located at the Pizza Foundation Building, 100 East San Antonio St., Marfa, TX 79843. (SE Corner of Route 67 & Route 90). For more information, visit them on the web

Greyhound Lines operates an intercity bus service from the Western Union office.[8]

The Amtrak Sunset Limited passes through the city, but does not stop. The nearest stop is located in nearby Alpine.

See also

  • Prada Marfa
  • Presidio County Courthouse

Those interested in the Marfa lights may also be interested in:


  1. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  2. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  3. ^ "Marfa, Texas." Handbook of Texas.
  4. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  5. ^ "Marfa lights." Handbook of Texas.
  6. ^ Whitney Joiner, "Postcard: Marfa. A far-flung Texas town stars in two of this year's Oscar-nominated films. Yet a proposed truck route could end its precious seclusion. The battle to stay off the beaten path," TIME 171.8 (February 25, 2008): 6.
  7. ^ Marfa (pop 2,400), the desert town that will be the star of the OscarsDaily Telegraph article by Catherine Elsworth in Issue 47,499 dated 21 February 2008
  8. ^ "Marfa, Texas." Greyhound Lines.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Marfa (Texas) — Marfa Ciudad de los Estados Unidos …   Wikipedia Español

  • Marfa (Texas) — Pour la ville maltaise, voir Marfa. Marfa …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Marfa Army Airfield — Part of Army Air Force Air Training Command (AAFTC) Presidio County, near Marfa, Texas …   Wikipedia

  • Marfa — Zentrum mit Courthouse im Hintergrund Lage von Marfa in Texas …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Marfa Municipal Airport — IATA: MRF – ICAO: KMRF – FAA LID: MRF Summary Airport type Public Owner Presidio County …   Wikipedia

  • Marfa Independent School District — Marfa High School Marfa Independent School District is a public school district based in Marfa, Texas (USA). In addition to Marfa, the district also serves the CDP of Redford and the unincorporated communities of Plata and Shafter. In 2009, the… …   Wikipedia

  • Marfa After Dark — Live album by Robert Earl Keen Released 2008 Genre Folk Length 48:50 …   Wikipedia

  • Marfa — may refer to: People Marfa Boretskaya Marfa Sobakina Marfa Samuilovna Skavronskaya (Catherine I of Russia) Places Marfa, Texas Meteorology Marfa front Music Marfa Music Marfa (instrument) …   Wikipedia

  • Marfa lights — The Marfa lights, also known as the Marfa ghost lights, have been observed near U.S. Route 67 on Mitchell Flat east of Marfa, Texas, in the United States. Research suggests that most if not all are atmospheric reflections of automobile headlights …   Wikipedia

  • Marfa Film Festival — The Marfa Film Fesival was a Film festival held in Marfa, Texas, celebrating contemporary and classic film, as well as hosting musical events, tours of the area, and various other art related activities. The first annual was held May 1–5. The… …   Wikipedia