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The Transformation of a West Texas Town

This inviting book explores how small-town Marfa, Texas, has become a landmark arts destination and tourist attraction, despite—and because of—its remote location in the immense Chihuahuan desert.

Series: Charles N. Prothro Texana Endowment

March 2019
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208 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 | 27 b&w photos |

A small town in the vast desert of West Texas, Marfa attracts visitors from around the world to its art foundations and galleries, film and music festivals, and design and architecture symposiums. While newcomers sometimes see it as “another Santa Fe,” long-time residents often take a bemused, even disapproving attitude toward the changes that Marfa has undergone since artist Donald Judd came to town in the 1970s and began creating spaces for his own and other artists’ work. They remember when ranching and the military formed the basis of the town’s economy, even as they acknowledge that tourist dollars are now essential to Marfa’s sustainability

Marfa tells an engaging story of how this isolated place became a beacon in the art world, like the famous Marfa Lights that draw curious spectators into the West Texas night. As Kathleen Shafer delves into the town’s early history, the impact of Donald Judd, the expansion of arts programming, and the increase in tourism, she unlocks the complex interplay between the particularities of the place, the forces of commerce and growth, the textures of local culture and tradition, and the transformative role of artists and creative work. Bookending her story between two iconic artworks—the whimsical Prada Marfa and the crass Playboy Marfa—Shafer illuminates the shifting cultural landscape of Marfa, showing why this place has become a mecca for so many and how the influx of newcomers has transformed its character.

  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. The History of Marfa
  • Chapter 3. Encountering the Landscape of Marfa
  • Chapter 4. Donald Judd in Marfa
  • Chapter 5. Marfa after Judd
  • Chapter 6. Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index


KATHLEEN SHAFER is a Marfa-based writer and artist who holds a PhD in geography and the environment from the University of Texas at Austin.


Marfa is an engrossing weave of cultural geography and aesthetics in an arid landscape made hip, a compelling story about a special, fraught, and privileged place.”
Char Miller, Pomona College, author of Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas

“Kathleen Shafer has written a vivid, thoughtful account of Marfa’s emergence as an arts center and tourist destination. Accessible and sophisticated, this book illuminates the history of Marfa, the qualities of its arid West Texas landscape, and the transformation set in motion by Donald Judd. A fascinating study of present-day Texas, artists, and the business of art.”
Alan Lessoff, Illinois State University, author of Where Texas Meets the Sea: Corpus Christi and Its History