Chinati Foundation completes archives project

Photo by Maisie Crow / An early map of Marfa and the grounds of Chinati Foundation found in the archives.

MARFA – After two years of meticulous processing, organizing and documenting, Chinati Foundation’s archive project was completed this spring, creating a digital database that will help the foundation chart its path forward and aid researchers in continuing the study of everything from Donald Judd’s life and work to the history of Fort D.A. Russell.

Chinati’s archives include paper records, correspondence, photographs, video footage, press coverage, printed ephemera and publications documenting everything from the cavalry era of Camp Marfa to the present day.

While the grant didn’t specifically cover digitization of those items, the archival department selectively chose items that were at risk of deteriorating beyond functional use, anything of “high research interest,” or an object that was inherently unique, like something handwritten by Donald Judd.

Hannah Marshall, the foundation’s archivist, said all of it is now stored in an archives database that was built during the grant. “During the pandemic, the way COVID impacted remote learning and research was so dramatic that we actually changed our plan for the system we were going to use for our database, specifically so we could have something that would facilitate remote research going forward,” Marshall said.

It would open up Chinati Foundation’s resources not just to those with well-funded research projects that could pay for the travel to Marfa, but also those who previously might not have been able to make the journey.

For now it’s open to staff use as an internal tool, but there is a function where digitized material can be freely and openly available on the internet, which they are troubleshooting now.

The archive at Chinati has always existed, in that the material was on-site in a storage room, but it wasn’t until the grant that Marshall was added to the staff as the foundation’s first full-fledged archivist. While the grant paid for her to be brought on, the foundation’s executive director, Jenny Moore, said the position would now be permanent, with much more work ahead in the archives.

Photo by Maisie Crow / Folders in the archive show the detailed system constructed in the process of organizing Chinati Foundation’s archive.

“When I first started here, the archives were a black hole that no one knew about,” Marshall said. “As soon as my name and email were up [on our website], we received requests; there was a demand we didn’t even know was there.”

“There’s a very important resource in the material record of Chinati,” Moore said. It became apparent during the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded master plan that Chinati undertook, and led the Mellon Foundation to fund the archival effort. 

Moore remarked that it was incredible to see and read Judd’s voice firsthand. “Seeing the statement that was written for Chinati and seeing his edits on that, why a particular word choice was so important, to have that sort of constitutional document of what the process was in real time, has been incredible,” she said.

Moving past the initial two-year project, Marshall said, “We’re building some internal research tools and doing things like oral histories and working on a really robust institutional timeline and source reviews to compile primary and secondary sources.”

The archives are already being tapped internally, with the director of planning and preservation, Peter Stanley, using decades-old documents to guide restoration plans across the grounds of Chinati, identifying where the adobe for the different walls around town were purchased. “Where the bricks come from determines the color of the adobe,” Marshall explained. “Knowing where the bricks for the wall at The Block versus from the Locker Plant are from is important in restoring those,” and that’s just the start of the archives’ usefulness within the organization and beyond.