John Chamberlain building to reopen April 30 after year-long restoration 

The Chinati Foundation recently announced the near completion of the newly-restored John Chamberlain building, pictured during construction when the removal of deteriorated plaster revealed the building’s historic lettering. Photo by Sarah Vasquez.

MARFA — The Chinati Foundation’s John Chamberlain building, located across from the post office in downtown Marfa, will reopen to the public on April 30, fully restored after a year-long construction project. 

The undertaking is the first, and most significant, of the foundation’s 2017 master plan projects to be completed — a multi-year effort to prioritize art conservation, architectural restoration, landscaping work and improvements to the visitor experience. The primary goal was to combat deterioration sustained by harsh elements, said Chinati Director Jenny Moore. Despite challenges the museum has faced during the ongoing pandemic, the project moved forward smoothly without having to be placed on hold at any point, said Moore. 

“When you embark on a major capital project, you hope you don’t have to concurrently worry about operations — but in this past year, we’ve been able to manage the dual challenges of continuing with our mission to address these major capital projects while kind of ramping back up to being open to the public again and always supporting the health and safety of our staff,” said Moore. 

The comprehensive restoration involved several structural upgrades, including a roof replacement, the addition of ramps to make the building ADA-compliant, as well as improvements to the exterior adobe wall and replanting of sotol plants in the courtyard.

The 23,000 square-foot former warehouse, which now houses John Chamberlain’s large-scale sculptures, was the first Chinati Foundation building to open to the public in 1983. Along with the effort to preserve the building, the project also included conservation of the 23 Chamberlain works permanently displayed in the building, the largest installation of his work in the world. 

“It really will be an open and fully accessible space and installation that we hope will then inspire people to understand more of what Chinati is about and, of course, visit us here on the main grounds of the former Fort D.A. Russell,” said Moore. 

Judd transformed the 1940 warehouse property, which was originally part mohair and wool storage/part feed store, with Dia Art Foundation support. The building was one of Judd’s major architectural projects, in which he designed the doors, windows and native plant landscape. 

The Chamberlain building’s prominent location allows it to act as a key entry point for learning about the life and work of Judd and the artists he championed. The experience exemplifies Judd’s concept for The Chinati Foundation, which was to create the ideal viewing space for his and other artists’ work, said Moore. 

“To be able to uphold our mission of stewardship to restore that building, and then to be able to reopen it as a point of access for visitors … It’s so great to be able to bring the artwork back out on view in this tremendously beautiful and suitable place for it,” said Moore. 

Chinati collaborated with JC Stoddard Construction, who regularly works in tandem with the Texas Historical Commission. The Central Marfa Historic District, which includes downtown structures such as the Chamberlain building, was recently recommended for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Chinati will host a community-wide celebration on April 30 and will offer free admission to the Chamberlain building for the remainder of 2022, due to contributions from their donors.