Marfa Stories

No, I’d never been to this country
before. No, I didn’t know where the roads
would lead me. No, I didn’t intend to
turn back.
— Mary Oliver 
Marfa, Texas is a destination easily romanticized. Hours from any major city, planted squarely in the middle of nowhere West Texas, Marfa is all open sky, dusty history, and star-lit nights. After feeling the specific sort of magic the town embodies, it’s easy to see why the location has long been a retreat for people looking to escape. And yet, it’s one thing to spend a long weekend in Marfa, and another entirely to live and work there. Below, the stories of three women who call it home.
Photography by MICHAEL A. MULLER

Susannah Lipsey, Shop Owner
At Susannah Lipsey’s shop Freda, you’re likely to find a mix of objects you won’t find anywhere else. Her curatorial eye references what’s around her — tinctured apothecary goods infused with desert plants; funny little sculptures made by wandering artists; framed time-lapse photos of the starry night sky (West Texas is one of the darkest place in the continental United States, where a specific awe can be found in simply remembering to look up). Susannah’s life has in many ways been about forging a path in a place off the beaten path, and developing a rhythm in places where the pace differs from the norm. We visited with her in Marfa at the precipice of a personal wave of change: this month, she opened Freda’s second location in the new Ace Hotel in New Orleans.
Living in a remote place offers limited opportunities for mainstream culture/art/creative influx (though Marfa is definitely somewhat of an exception). How do you stay inspired when things are especially quiet?
It used to be that I would take a trip to the Chinati Hot Springs or go down to Terlingua near the national park, but things have gotten busier. It's harder to make those trips as frequently and it never really feels quiet in town anymore. There is always something going on or friends coming through. I am constantly collaborating and working with people here on items for the shop or hosting special events. I also participate in a variety of singing and theater projects as they come up. I get to exercise that side of myself here in a really cozy and comfortable way. 

Susannah wears GALISTEO WABI SLEEVELESS TOP in night light stripe and BAJA TIE WAIST PANT in azalea. 
How does the desert flora/landscape influence you?
There is a great comfort in the landscape here for me. It takes me back to my childhood, to the feelings I had when we came out to see my grandparents. There is this feeling of limitlessness. No dream seems impossible. The sky goes on and on. And the wind can be very comforting for me — the sound it makes, the way it relates to change. The shadows of the clouds over the mountains.
Wherever you live, no matter how beautiful, life can sort of take over and you don't spend as much time experiencing the beauty in your backyard, but I try really really hard not to take any of it for granted. It's why I'm here in the first place.   

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
I could answer this in so many different ways. I've learned that I just keep learning. We all have this one life and there are so many things we can be or do. There are so many ways in which we can help out. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to know what we want to do with our lives, but its not always that cut and dry for some people. You start to second guess what you are doing a lot. Oh, what if I should pursue this other thing instead? Or what if I lived somewhere else? Would that be more fulfilling? I'm trying to take it a day at a time and let the universe lead. To think outside myself and not be so myopic.

Mimi wears GALEANA BIB FRONT DRESS in white
Mimi Dopson, Ceramicist
For Mimi Dopson, a life in the West Texas desert is a rebirth: after raising a family in Austin and working at the front desk of her husband’s dental practice for most of her adult life, the pair retired and moved on a whim, taking on a more austere desert life, and starting ceramic classes together at a local college. In Marfa, she found connection, like with curator and former Judd partner Marianne Stockebrand, who stocked the couple’s line Mimi y Roberto at Tienda M (co-owned by Dosa’s Christina Kim), presenting the pottery in a new context.
How have you gotten to where you are?
I was born in a small central Texas town with food from the garden and hard-working people. My grandfather took us to the dance hall on week nights, and during the intermissions we would slide on the slick floor. In the early morning, I would draw, finger-paint, or make a small corner beautiful. I loved plants and flowers. Much later, Ikebana lessons brought my focus to one seed pod, one branch, one flower in a special container.
Both my husband Robert and never studied ceramics before we moved to West Texas. However, we would often travel to Mexico; we loved Oaxaca and searched out well-known artists. Everything from weaving to clay interested us. We drove down long, unpaved roads to meet these artists. [I remember once] Theodora Blanca—sitting among her chickens—offered me a piece of clay to try. I was too timid and declined. But she planted a seed.
At home we set up our studio and worked every day to learn. We also expanded our borders and hiked in Copper Canyon, traveling on the cheap, always with the intent to learn. Eventually, a one-inch ad in Ceramics Monthly lured us to join a group from Santa Cruz on a trip to Japan. Such a big decision, but soon we were landing in Narita Airport and then on a train to Tokyo. We discovered a school that taught ceramics as if we were part of the family; we slept on the floor with no furniture and one lamp. Waking up at sunrise, we would slide the screen to open our room to the garden, inspired by the flowers, and how temples in Kyoto arrange flowers as part of their ritual. When our first clumsy bowls made the slop bucket at end of day, we were still happy! No one would say we had arrived, but sweet, talented people at this pottery school slowly moved us along so that we knew we had improved. The spiral of the clay was always reassuring.

How do your surroundings inspire your work?
Well now, it’s 7am in this small West Texas town. The early sky is pale amethyst. There are no street lights. There are few street noises of a the town waking up. In time we see incredible birds through our glass wall. Today we look for the oriole that we saw yesterday — golden yellow and black. Here we notice sky and space and quiet. We are out the door walking. There is always something intriguing.

Susan wears SAN RAFAEL MIDI RUFFLE DRESS in black stripe
Susan Sutton
Executive Director, Ballroom Marfa
Formerly a curator at Houston’s Menil Collection, Susan now heads Ballroom Marfa, a central hub of art, music, and culture responsible for curating the much of the town’s current art programming, everything from experimental exhibitions to music festivals: a challenging role in contemporary art against the backdrop of life at a “speed bump pace.”
In what ways have you become the woman you've always wanted to be? How has your idea of that woman changed over time? What moments do you strive to create in your life?
When I was young, I was obsessed with cool. As I mature, I've begun to strive toward timelessness and minimalism; to not distract from what is. Being a woman who understands the power of the feminine spirit — I am not there entirely there yet — but I've begun to recognize it and celebrate it in other women I admire and think about how to incorporate it into my own personae. A Susan Sontag quote comes to mind: "What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine."

Much of your professional focus is devoted to creating opportunities and best possible conditions for showcasing others’ work. What has this exposure to art and intellectualized creativity taught you about how art/creativity fits your own life?
Providing the space and conditions for others to create is a template that can be internalized. We do this for others; it’s somehow easier to give this to someone else sometimes than to give these same conditions to ourselves. That platform of generosity is important for everyone – artists, the community, and you.
I’ve also learned that living is a constant opportunity for art and creativity – that it can permeate everything in your life from the smallest gestures to the larger more formal ones. Often, I find myself extremely moved by the way artists live – Georgia O’Keefe, Donald Judd – the way an artist’s practice carries over into the mundane and practical moves me.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Going into your fear is the only way forward. I’m working on being brave all the time – it never ends.
Interviews by LEIGH PATTERSON | Styled by ALEXA HOTZ