Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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


Santa Fe 1967 – Dave Cargo was inaugurated as New Mexico’s twenty-second Governor in January 1967.  One afternoon early in September our friend, Ernie, walked across the street to our house and said we were invited to the Governor’s Mansion for a big party!  Wow! Exciting! A chance to take the ever present diapers off my shoulder and play Dress-Up!  Don’t remember what I wore, but am certain it was my best dress and high heels…and make up!  The three of us drove up Governor Mansion Drive to a large one story adobe house.  We were met by “greeters” and pointed to an informal bar for cocktails.  The living room was large and long – a typical “sala” design  reminiscent of colonial New Mexico architecture. Along one end of the room were French doors  which opened to a large patio facing West.  We were introduced to what I now realize were all the important donors to the N.M. Republican Party.  Honestly, it was a blur.  The flow of the group was toward the patio to have a drink and watch the sun set over the Jemez Mountains. A low wall surrounded the patio and separated it from the open land below. I was overwhelmed by the space – the evening light was surreal.  I was having an out of body experience – my first encounter with my New Mexico Dreamtime – love at first sight!

In 1967 the population of Santa Fe was around 35,000 and New Mexico was still a new state – the real Wild West where some land deals were made with a handshake and feuds sometimes ended up with guns drawn.  Up until a few weeks before this event I had never been West of the Mississippi – never seen adobe houses, pinon trees or a mountain and now I was surrounded by all this newness!  When I looked toward those beautiful mountains in the distance, it felt as though I had been transported to an alien planet – at the very least, a foreign country!  New Mexico was now my home….this land and I were in the process of being introduced – our first real meeting.  I can remember wondering if I could ever belong here – there was so much I had to learn!  Being introduced to “Lonesome Dave Cargo” at the Governor’s Mansion seemed to be a rather auspicious beginning!

Footnote:  Dave Cargo was a liberal Republican.  As governor he started the N.M. Film Commission which has since brought in millions of dollars in revenue to our state.  Regarding the state prison system he believed that prisoner reform went hand in hand in fighting poverty.   President Johnson’s War on Poverty included funding for prison reform; it was called Project Newgate.  After Nixon was elected, monies for the War on Poverty were diverted to the war in Viet Nam. Project Newgate was phased out. For the next five years prison policy was run by a group of politicians without any accountability. It is entirely possible that the poor conditions at the Penitentiary in 1980 contributed to the bloodiest prison riot in U.S. history.  Thirty-three prisoners and guards were killed and countless others wounded and maimed….vivid memories for anyone living here during those tragic days and nights!