This tiny little texan town packs a big punch! A cultural phenomenon known as the Marfa Mystique, where cowboy chic meets the contemporary arts scene, makes for plenty to see and do in this art and design oasis. Despite it’s recent popularity, Marfa is definitely off the beaten path, but it’s well worth the trek once you get there. We were fortunate enough to visit during the first annual Marfa Invitational, when the cultural scene came to life and put it’s best Prada polished foot forward. I can’t get enough of this unique art colony in west Texas and I can’t wait to return. Our travel guide to Marfa includes the whole enchilada…lodging recommendations , boutiques and galleries to visit and local artists to meet who will welcome you during your stay.
Hotel Saint George
The Hotel Saint George is the perfect combination of Marfa’s past and present. Renovated by two longtime Marfans, three floors were added to the existing structure, making the hotel Marfa’s tallest building (besides the local water tower). It’s preserved concrete floors and steel doors are from the original 1886 hotel and over 300 contemporary works of art art exhibited throughout. The Marfa Invitational was held in the hotels ballroom and we enjoyed afternoons chatting up locals and art enthusiasts alike, while drinking cocktails in the sleek, modern lobby.
A remarkable, world-class art bookstore, Marfa Book Company, is located in the lobby. There are rows of flat files filled with local art. Be sure to ask the salesperson to open the files for you to see the treasures inside! Besides the beautiful selection of art books, you can find an array of tasteful gifts from Mykita sunglasses to products by homegrown Marfa Brand Soap. Temporary art exhibitions and performances also occupy the space
The hip, retro 1950’s Thunderbird hotel is a minimalist refuge. I has been artfully modernized while maintaining the original hotel’s bygone feeling. Pecan-wood furniture, original art and photography decorate the sparse rooms. The gardens outside are populated with local flora and fauna. You can rent a retro typewriter or a turntable with records galore to customize your Thunderbird experience.
El Cosmico is Marfa’s boho-centric nomadic hotel and campground. Owned by the same hotelier as the stylishly urbane Hotel Santa Jose in Austin, this venture took a different turn. El Cosmico ditched the traditional “rent-a-room” concept for trailers, yurts, tents and tepees. The place exudes a mellow, communal atmosphere, complete with wood-fired Dutch hot tubs! El Cosmico is perfect if your longing for a post-hippie commune experience or just looking for insta-perfect wanderlust pics.
Galleries + Boutiques
This tiny town has a big art world presence. Many artists, designers and art professionals from big cities move to Marfa seeking a simpler way of life. Fortunately for us, one-of-a-kind pieces can be found in the many curated boutiques around town. Often these shops also serve as the artisans workspaces, making your visit an experience. The best part? Meeting the artists themselves, learning about their craft and how they came to be a Marfan.
Cobra Rock is a boutique that specializes in custom made boots and accessories along with work from other small independent designers and made-in-the-USA brands. The adobe building on South Dean Street serves as the artisans workspace and they jokingly refer to the street as the “fashion district” (there are two other workshop/stores that share the block).
The NY Times “Real Artists of Marfa” profiles bootmaker Colt Miller and Logan Caldbeck, the co-owners of Cobra Rock Boot Company. Colt’s craftsmanship is impeccable and his handmade laceup boots are made from oil-tanned cowhides with leather soles and metal shanks. We especially love that their workspace is located as you enter the store, with their incredibly cool tools in full view, including a vintage Singer topstitcher and finisher.
Set in a beautiful 1890’s adobe building, Mano Mercantile is a creative compound, with a shop as an extension of the studio. Owners, Gabrielle and Beau met in college at RISD, she majored in Painting and he in Printmaking. After careers in the fashion and art world, they moved to Marfa, renovated the building and moved into the apartment above the store.
Featuring local apparel, accessories, textiles, crafts, photography and ceramics, they create much of the crafts sold in the store. Mano Mercantile’s sensibility is very boho chic meets western Americana. Arrangements of beaded necklaces, woven textiles, bones, found objects etc. are exhibited on a low wooden table like fine specimens. We love Beau’s fabric and wood Jackrabbit sculptures!
Arbor and Sons Editions
There’s nothing I enjoy more than visiting printmaking studios. They are captivating spaces with grand printing presses and rows of flat files safeguarding their treasures. Like it’s neighbor, Mano Mercantile, Arbor and Sons owner, Robert Arber, renovated an old building downtown Marfa on El Paso street which is now his home and studio. When we approached the storefront, a charming man, Robert Arber himself, was taking a break outside in the fresh spring air of a Texas afternoon. He at once gave us a warm, welcoming grin that had become familiar by now. Everyone in Marfa is so friendly and genuine.
Robert is a Tamarind Master Printer and worked for Donal Judd as his personal printer. He has also printed for internationally renown artists such as such as John Baldessari, Donald Judd, Ilya Kabakov, Bruce Nauman and Richard Prince.
This fashion forward boutique is the talk of the town. Owned by the fashion designer, John Patrick Fleming, of the well-known brand Organic, and his partner Walter Fleming. Communitie has a sister store located in Amagansett, New York and promotes sustainable projects and education, supporting social and artistic exchange. The shop offers a collection of artisanal signature hats, jewelry, global textiles, pottery, and art.
A converted dance hall from the early 1920’s, Ballroom Marfa plays a major role in the contemporary arts and culture of this tiny town. The Ballroom showcases regular exhibits of visual art, film, and performance art, giving home to genres that aren’t traditionally exhibited in galleries. Community events and musical performances also occupy it’s calendar. What’s up and coming on the agenda? Marfa Myths, an annual music festival and multidisciplinary cultural program, April 25-28.
Born by two Texas natives, Raba Marfa curates vintage clothing pieces, hand picked accessories and hand picked home wares. I found these vintage Gucci boots and hat. Love!
United Artists, Ltd.
A contemporary art gallery, United Artists, Ltd is housed in a historic gas station that has been converted into a modern industrial art space. Owned by the famous New York artist, Michael Phelan, the gallery is a live/work space where you can often find Phelan and his family gathering with their local arts community.
Originally from Texas, Phelan returned to Marfa to open the exhibition space. During my art school years in NYC, Phelan’s work was hot on the contemporary scene and included in major group shows, including PS1 and the Whitney. He recently produced the first, annual Marfa Invitational and it was such a pleasure to meet him in person.
I had to include this incredible rock shop. Such a classic with an impressive amount of rock piles along the exterior of the building. Inside the shop, the rocks have been polished to reveal the natural beauty of their interiors. Apparently, Marfa sits on agate fields, some of which are harvested by the owner of Moonlight Gemstones, Paul Graybeal. The prolific cutter creates lovely jewelry and other shiny objects.
The main attraction is the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum housed in renovated army barracks, founded by international artist Donald Judd. There is plenty of information out there on how Judd discovered Marfa and made it the art mecca it is today. You can read Artists Network and get the scoop.
Self-guided tours are allowed for select portions of the permanent collection, including Judd’s contemporary, Dan Flavin’s light installations. I highly recommend booking a time slot for a guided tour, especially if you aren’t familiar with minimal art. The context of the art plays an integral role in Judd’s work and some background information about the minimalist movement is helpful when viewing it.
While I was occupied with the events for the Marfa Invitational, I was unable to exhibit much of the cuisine in Marfa. However, the lunch spots around town were great places to take in the local flare. The slow pace and friendly folk made the experience more about the atmosphere than the food. After a day of trekking around town or hiking through the desert to view Judd’s concrete sculptures, a nice long lunch with good company is just what Marfa serves up best!
Located as you enter Marfa proper, The Waterstop exudes the local flavor of the town. It’s seating area outside makes it a great place to visit on not-too-hot days and regulars frequent it’s tables. The food is tasty and the company is excellent. I recommend the chicken and to-die-for waffles.
A favorite among locals, this lunch-only food truck offers yummy Mediterranean grub. You can dine in the old rustic bus or sit outside amongst all the parked vintage cars. Visit the Food Shark for their “Marfalafel,” which has a Texas slant with warm flour tortillas instead of pita.
Some say that Mathew McConaughey loves Marfa Burrito (if that means anything to you). Anthony Bourdain (RIP) dined here while shooting his TV show, which definitely means something to me, so had to pay homage to the famed burrito. The winner was the potato-egg-and-cheese wrapped in an enormous house-made tortilla. What made it so good? The tortilla is like manna from heaven. Bring cash.
Al Campo is a Wine Garden and Rustic Bistro, not-so-much a lunch spot but great for happy hour and dinner. A popular place to have a cocktail or a glass of wine, and enjoy good conversation.
The same owners as Al Campo opened La Playa with it’s beach themed food truck and bar. Be sure to order one of their fresh juice smoothies and their pork sandwiches are divine!
By guest blogger Kelly Kerwick