Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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



It has taken many years for me to realize that I wasn’t the only person in my marriage to have a hidden agenda.  My husband and his mother were determined to keep him out of the Viet Nam War.  The solution they came up with was marriage – and a Hail Mary pregnancy should do the trick.

1960 – The morning of my wedding day, I told my bridesmaid that I had my doubts.  She said if I wanted to run, she would help me.  If I ran I would be returning to all the family chaos.  It seemed that marriage was an empty-handed leap into the unknown.  I decided to take the chance.  The truth is I just went from one abusive home to another. I naively wished that married life – a fresh start would change my life.  Eventually it did change me in so many ways…how can I say it was bad?  There are no accidents.

About four days into the marriage and a quick trip to of all places Niagara Falls, we headed to his family home in Pennsylvania.  His mother had arranged a party to introduce me to the whole family….his brother and his wife, all the aunts, uncles and cousins.  I sat in the middle of the living room exposed to intense scrutiny. Half way through the evening his brother mentioned to my groom that his old girlfriend was parked in front of the house.  He went out to “talk” to her and didn’t return for about two hours.  In the meantime I sat with all those strangers staring at me trying not to cry.  It was too bad that I didn’t have a healthy sense of myself then I might have left then – truth is I had no place to go…I stayed.

It was the height of the recession and no jobs were available in this small town in western Pennsylvania.  We headed back to Chicago.  We both found jobs at Glenwood School for Boys.  My husband taught one of the lower grades and I worked in the office answering phones and sorting mail.  Ernie and his brother had been orphaned and had been residents at the school for many years.  We all met and became friends with the other teachers – it was a nice way to settle into our first months of marriage.  We rented a small cottage on Willow Road not far from the school campus….it was a poorly insulated log cabin from the ’40s and quite “rustic” – many mornings that winter my toothbrush was frozen to the cup!  The bathroom was quite large with a long table set under some casement windows.  I set up my paints and worked there making small paintings whenever there was time….my first “studio” was a bathroom!

One evening I was sitting close to the wood stove reading a book.  My husband was across the room drinking beer from a Pilsner glass.  In a stark moment the glass was hurled at my head, just missed my right eye and smashed against the wall.  It had been thrown with such force that there was a chunk of plaster gouged out of the wall.  I asked him why he did that.  He just stared at me with seething anger and did not answer. My hopes for change vanished.  In that moment all the fears I experienced as a child returned.  I needed to be afraid of my new husband.  I needed to try to be better as a wife – this happened because somehow I made him angry. I wasn’t good enough!  I took responsibility for his bad behavior!  I stayed.

Oh, Hail Mary!  The doctor told me I was pregnant – 21 years old and pregnant.  That same afternoon my husband took a note from the doctor and ran to his draft board and was granted a deferment.  He called his mother with the news – I could hear her sigh of relief over the phone.  We both had our reasons to be in this marriage – let’s try again!  Maybe we can make this better for our baby.