Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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


Spring Thaw at Cundiyo

After what I felt was my disastrous debut into the Santa Fe social circle, I went home and decided that everything would be just fine if I worked hard enough.  There were baby bottles to wash and many, many diapers to change.  It was my job to try to create some normalcy out of what were some very intense times.  Routine has always been my saving grace – and my babies were growing fat and happy. We played silly baby games, their favorite meal was spaghetti because they could eat it from the trays in their high chairs.  When they napped, I painted.

A few days after the bridge game, Jane Petchesky knocked on my front door.  Jane and her husband owned a Morgan horse ranch south of town.  They also were partners with the Abe Silver family and owned the Guarantee, Santa Fe’s only department store on the corner of the Plaza.  She was a real “cowgirl” – feisty and independent – I took a lesson from her that day.

We were well into the month of October, but the days were still sunny and warm.  That afternoon we had a cup of coffee while she surveyed the chaos sympathetically.  I knew she knew why we had to move to Santa Fe. She invited me to go to the village of Cundiyo to paint with her!  I said yes! Yes! YES!!!  Don’t remember how I made arrangements for the babies….but in a few days I had gathered my brushes and paints (am sure I carried them in my old artist’s wooden box).  Packed up a lunch and off we went!  My first foray into the Great Unknown.

The day was sparkly; the sky was a blue I had never experienced. Coming from the haziness of Chicago the brilliance of the light and the colors took my breath away.  Open fields, little villages, cozy adobe houses – I was enchanted!! I took my first deep breath since we arrived in this strange and wonderful place!  Jane said that the village of Cundiyo is also called “Los Vigiles” because almost everyone there was named Vigil.  At the end of a sharp turn to the left of the road is a large red cliff.  Beneath were several pick-up trucks parked beside a small river and men with their poles headed out to do some fishing.  Across the road was a little dirt path that led to the other side of the river. Jane parked and we got out our paints and lunches and settled into work.  

This was my first ever attempt at painting outdoors (plein air).  It was confusing – there are so many decisions to make in order to get  good composition on canvas…I was overwhelmed.  The day was bright and beautiful.  It brings tears to my eyes now to remember Jane’s kindness.  Somehow I sensed I was being shown a new way to live – there was hope!  Don’t remember if the painting was good or bad – it was my very first New Mexico landscape and I was happy!

For many, many years I couldn’t remember the name of the village or its location. Only when I moved to Truchas and decided to take another route home instead of turning left at Chimayo, I went straight.  There it was! That little spot by the river – unchanged, peaceful – a little bit of sanity in a crazy world!  I have passed that spot many times and thought of Jane. The above image, “Spring Thaw at Cundiyo” is my way of thanking her for lighting the spark!