A World War II officers' club features Old West murals painted by German POWs.
Building 98 opened in 1911 as the bachelor’s club for the US Army’s Fort D. A. Russell. The fort was built to secure the United States’ border with Mexico during the Mexican Revolution, but remained useful throughout World War I and World War II. Building 98 remained the place for soldiers to kick back and relax.
Fort D. A. Russell expanded during WWII, as Air Force and Army recruits were trucked in to be trained at the Marfa Army Airfield (above which the mysterious Marfa Lights can be seen). The fort was also the holding site of some 200 German prisoners of war, two of whom were tasked with an unusual job: painting a mural in Building 98’s officers club.
The two POWs selected for this job were Hans Jürgen Press and Robert Humpel, both artists. After being released from Fort D. A. Russell and returning to Europe, Press even went on to have a prolific career as an illustrator for children’s books.
Their mural was based on the dusty Texan landscapes they saw around them. It depicted scenes from Western films the artists had seen back in Germany–covered wagons, cowboys on horseback, and spiny saguaros abound–despite the fact that these were nowhere to be found around Marfa.
Fort D. A. Arthur closed following WWII. It lay empty for years until artist Donald Judd purchased and transformed it into the revolutionary Chinati Foundation. Building 98, on the other hand, has remained exactly as the officers and POWs left it. It is now the home of the International Woman’s Foundation, which continues the building’s artistic legacy by staging expositions of work from experienced female artists.
Know Before You Go
Marfa is in far western Texas, about 200 miles southeast of El Paso. To visit Building 98 is by appointment only - you can contact the International Womans Foundation at 432-386-3212 for more information.
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