Marfa, Texas: The capital of quirkiness

Morley Safer finds a rich cultural stew of cowboys and artists mixing it up in an unusual West Texas town

The following is a script from "Marfa, Texas" which aired on April 14, 2013. Morley Safer is the correspondent. David Browning and Jonathan Schienberg, producers.

It sometimes seems America is a country hopelessly divided -- by class, by politics, by culture. Tonight, we go to a remote place where few have trodden before -- Marfa, Texas -- for a lesson in artful coexistence. Marfa is in cattle country, the high desert of far West Texas. Like many small towns, it's come close to extinction.

But today, Marfa lives on, is even thriving: its renaissance spurred by the arrival of a host of young, cutting edge artists. Mixing cowboys and culture might seem like a bad idea, but it's made Marfa a capital of quirkiness. And it's produced a harmony as sweet as the country music that fills the air.

Out on the lone prairie -- a 200-mile drive from the nearest airport -- stands Marfa, population 2,000. The train doesn't stop here anymore, and at first glance the place may look half dead. But look closer. Marfa today is an eccentric Tex-Mex stew of art galleries, tourists, cowboys and characters.

Dan Dunlap: It's a freedom loving town. People are allowed just to live and let live.

As mayor, Dan Dunlap presides over a town where old Marfans saddle up to ride the range and the new ones paint and sculpt. All in a very quiet place.

Morley Safer: Crime a problem?

Dan Dunlap: No sir, crime is not a problem.

Morley Safer: When was the last murder you had in Marfa?

Dan Dunlap: Can't remember.

[Coen brothers: And action.]

Well, there was one. The Coen brothers shot their movie "No Country For Old Men" outside town. They needed a local to murder, one with some acting experience.

Chip Love: I told them I was in "The Wizard of Oz" in high school and they said, "That's perfect."

So Chip Love - a local banker - found himself face-to-face with that loco hombre Javier Bardem.

Morley Safer: It's pretty unusual for the town's leading banker -

Chip Love: Yeah, I'm the town's leading banker. The only one, yeah.

Morley Safer: - to get shot in the head by a crazed crook.

Chip Love: Well, I think a lot of people would like to see their banker shot right now.

Actually, the movies and Marfa go way back. In 1955, the Texas epic "Giant" was filmed here. And townspeople got to watch Rock Hudson roping, James Dean riding, and Elizabeth Taylor - well, just being Elizabeth Taylor. There's a shrine to the movie in Marfa's Paisano Hotel.

Chip Love: It was about cattle. It was about ranches. It was about the things that we hold dear.

But these days, watching the passing parade, you're not quite sure if you're in Mayberry or Greenwich Village. For old Marfans, there's the gun show.

For new Marfans, a symposium on politics, culture, climate and sustainability. And, for reasons we weren't able to pin down - adolescent hula dancers.

Buck Johnston: I mean, it's nutty. It's just this cultural little hub in the middle of nowhere. We think it's the best small town in America.

Camp Bosworth: Don't tell anybody. Edit that out, please.

Buck Johnston: That's right.

Credit: www.vagarights.com

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