Texans have a special relationship with the remote, high-desert town of Marfa, whether attracted to the vast, heart-swelling landscape or the internationally lauded art galleries that populate the town's main streets. First colonized as a railroad waterstop in 1880 and later popularized by minimal artist Donald Judd, Marfa remains a place of intrigue and unique inspiration.
Today those working in the arts live alongside those working in agriculture, totaling a community of 1,900 that ebbs and flows as adventurers stop in town for a few months — or years — hoping to unleash their creative potential.
Spend one weekend in Marfa, and faces quickly become familiar as they work several jobs or are invested in several projects across the tiny town. Many are individuals who uprooted their lives to settle in West Texas isolation, and their perspectives on what it is to live and succeed in the desert terrain are greatly influenced by their personal passions. And so impassioned they are, that they inspired us to keep track of the community, telling its stories over the course of time.
Our first three profiles are transplants who felt a magnetic pull to the remote town and saw their creative ventures flourish.
The Shopkeepers: Cody Barber and Jennifer Creager
Couple Cody Barber and Jennifer Creager are new additions to the town's ecosystem who decided to make the full time leap after visiting well over a dozen times in one year. Their store, Cast & Crew, has been in business as an online venture since 2011. The move to Marfa was motivated by opening their own storefront, and greatly necessitated by the need for more space for their products.
Having first worked together on documenting mariachi festivals in and around Lubbock, Barber and Creager now focus on iconic homeware, specifically in "modification" of it. The bulk of the Cast & Crew business comes from purchases of midcentury modern designs which they've restored, applied color, texturized and added various desert elements.
Though their booming success might suggest otherwise, the assimilation into the Marfan lifestyle hasn't always come easy. "Living here helps you be more intentioned with the way that you live," Creager explains, referencing the need for preparedness that comes with living in a destination so remote there's no pharmacy. But the autonomy, they say, is exactly what invigorates them — along with the breathtaking sunrises.
The Architect-designer: Melissa McDonnell Lujan
Melissa McDonnell Lujan was initially introduced to Marfa by the ambitious restoration project of the historical Collie-Johnson House. One of the oldest structures in town, the 1894 two-story adobe house on a prominent corner in town was near collapse when her team was called in to save it with their own blood, sweat and tears. The house had been passed through many owners, including Donald Judd, who were all advised to tear the structure down. However, Lujan (who has an M.Arch. degree from Rice) says she gained the courage needed to take on the daunting project from the spirit of the town. "Whenever I'm on site, people will stop by and tell stories. It has special meaning to people who grew up here," she says. "I even had the chance to walk through the house with a man that grew up in the house during the Depression."
So in the sweltering summer of 2009, she made 600 blocks of adobe by hand and created a design that honored the house's original aesthetic while bringing it into modernity. In 2011, she moved to Marfa permanently, being "drawn to seemingly impossible architecture projects in the town." Lujan recently married a local and serves as the deputy director of Ballroom Marfa, a non-profit contemporary cultural arts organization that's well-known in the international arts world. She specifically oversees Ballroom Marfa Drive-In (an outdoor amphitheater a few blocks down from the museum space for music, film and performance) and its high-profile projects like the Marfa Tryptich: Three portraits of West Texas as envisioned by composer Graham Reynolds.
Despite her noteworthy accomplishments, Lujan says: "The small scale of the town leads to relationship building between people for personal reasons rather than professional. Unlike the cities I lived in previously, nobody asks you what you 'do' at the point of introduction — it's refreshing."
The Entreprenuer: Buck Johnston
If a small business is brewing in Marfa, it's likely born out of Buck Johnston's active mind. She and her husband, artist Camp Bosworth, have lived in Marfa for 13 years, and of her decade-plus tenure she says, "We moved to a town of 1,900 and our world expanded." She's initiated countless projects in town, most notably the Marfa Design Symposium which draws in architects, designers and appreciators from across the state and country for an intimate lecture series and homes tour.
Her dealings may be high-brow, but she's intent on making them accessible and has a sense of humor, too. The shop-cum-gallery she and Bosworth run is called Wrong because, as she says, "we're not trying to be right." Fittingly, Bosworth's art is unapologetically influenced by Narco Corridos, the politics of the border and ongoing cartel wars. "My work mimics the cartels’ larger than life exploits, and tries to tell the stories of their accumulation of status and power," he says.
Johnston, who says that Marfa is a town so small the most important code of conduct is kindness, also has a Marfa Bike Share program and a design contest for multifamily housing units in the works. When asked why she invests her time and energy into so many projects, she says: "Well, I love this town. I want to see our citizens happy and our businesses grow and thrive. It's kind of basic, but that's the reason — I want the town to thrive."