I was raised in a town of 500 people. There were two general stores that sold hardware along side candy and bicycles, a library smaller than a contemporary Starbucks, a one pump gas station and a solitary stop sign. There were no addresses. You had to go to the tiny post office to get your mail from a brass covered mailbox with a mechanical padlock on the front. But if you forgot the code it didn’t matter as the post mistress knew who you were and she would just hand you your mail along with a long conversation about the weather. You could walk down the middle of the street and not be passed for hours at a time. It was in the prairie of farmland and rivers. Space was one thing it had in spades. But gradually and seemingly inevitably it shrank. The gas station and Saab dealership (yes, I know, strange) closed. Beautiful two story Federal-style brick buildings from the 1800's were demolished, replaced by a 7-11 generic metal structure. This tragedy is playing out all over America. It is a great loss.
So imagine my surprise to find in the remote corner of Texas a small town that was not shrinking, but thriving because a man named Judd decided in the 70's to make it his remote art enclave.
It is a town of 2000. Yes, big compared to my tiny hamlet, but very small compared to most towns in America. It sits a mile high and the light is clear and white. The desert is right at it's edge. No ring of generic suburbia. Just town and landscape. Judd chose it for it's low population and the architecture that it already contained. Strong simple utilitarian ranch based buildings. Buildings of the same era of which my small town was built. Judd purchased many of them and either restored them or at least limited their decline with new roofs. A bank, a grocery store, a barracks, all serving the higher purpose of housing art and art making.
Now this town is an art mecca. Many make the pilgrimage from all over the world to see this master piece. Judd wanted his work permanently installed so he had control over the surrounding architecture and landscape. So he purchased many utilitarian buildings once home to a US military fort. It is of one mind. One idea. The idea of a kind of permanent impermanence. Nothing can be viewed the same twice. The high Texas light wouldn't allow it.
There is always a dark side to this sort of gentrification. Because of the new money families who have owned adobe structures for generations are being priced out as those structures because of the high demand by newcomers and art patrons. Saving the town, but not the residents. There are ways to mitigate this. Whether Marfa is practicing any of these I don't know. But I do know that because of Judd, Marfa will not suffer the same fate as my small hometown and for that I am eternally gratefu