Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

How I Came to New Mexico and learned about Art and Life


Staying with my theme of “meetings”….

Shortly before my eighth birthday I sat on the cement stoop of my step-grandmother’s house on Fletcher Street in Chicago.   She was very pious and loved the saints. To please her I was drawing a picture of the Blessed Virgin with colored pencils.   When I looked up from my drawing, I saw an old man walking toward me.  He was wearing a baseball cap, carrying a green lunch bucket with a newspaper tucked under his arm.  He stopped and asked what I was doing and I showed him my drawing.  He said it was very good and asked me to stay right where I was – there was something special he wanted to give me.

Warned never to talk to strangers, I ran into the house and asked my dad if I could accept a gift from the stranger.  He knew the man and told me that he was once had been a well-known artist and his paintings were widely exhibited. Sadly he became an alcoholic and now painted lampshades at the factory around the block from my grandmother’s house.

The old man returned with a battered wooden box and with some ceremony laid it down in front of me.  Opening the latch I breathed the wonderful scent of linseed oil and turpentine…the box contained all his brushes, his wooden palette and all his paints!  I sensed how precious this box was to him, but had no idea this little old man had just opened the door to my future!  A short time later my father told me that the old man had died.   It took me eight years to finally open the box and lay the still fresh colors on that palette to do my first oil painting! 

Today I am older than my benefactor was on the day he gave me his treasured wooden box. Since that time I have painted hundreds, perhaps a couple thousand canvases – an immense journey!  In less than an hour on a warm Chicago afternoon, that beautiful little man led me to my life’s work.   We never met again…..