Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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



Eventually all that snow from the Great Chicago Blizzard melted and winter gave way to a beautiful spring.  Some of my high school friends got together and gifted me with a twin stroller for the girls.  The three of us had a few outdoor adventures to see the birdies.  By the time I got the three of them ready for a walk, we all needed a nap!  Life settled into quite a nice routine on most days and while they were taking their afternoon naps, I got out my paints.  Painted an old fairly ornate frame black and did a still life painting in three colors to fit the frame – black, white and yellow!  It was surprisingly good!

My friend Bonnie (not her real name) visited often.  We met on the morning train ride when we both worked in the Loop.  She was friendly and very flamboyant and stood out in a crowd – wore big hats, high heels and fur coats.  She had a married lover named Frank who was a high priced attorney in one of Chicago’s largest law firms. Bonnie brought Frank to visit one day and he bought the still life painting for $75.00!  My first sale!  Little did I know that Frank would become a significant player in the lives of my little family.

Bonnie was the only person to whom I confided the details of my life.  She was married, divorced and living alone and she loved it.  She had raised a son by herself, collected antiques and art with a little help from Frank.   I was in awe of her ability to roll with the punches.  She described herself  as “one tough Polish broad”.  I  was especially happy when she visited her parents in Arizona and returned with a supply of frozen pierogi (Polish style dumplings) her mother had made for me!  I trusted her as a friend.

Absolutely no one knew the secrets of my married life.  One day I dropped the Happy Homemaker facade and told Bonnie the truth.  She never really gave advice, but listened….for the first time I heard myself describe my suspicions about my husband’s behavior and his over the top spending habits. New fishing rods and reels, the start of his gun collection, a sporting club he used as an excuse to be away from home.  Tweed sport coats with leather patches at the elbows, a large selection of pipes, some kind of expensive apple flavored tobacco rounded out his emerging persona as the wise all-knowing English professor.  He took longer and longer showers before going on his weekend fishing trips and wore some heavy cologne before packing his car with all his gear.  I knew he wasn’t spending his time fishing!  Bonnie had no other advice but to grin and bear it and I recalled the priestly admonitions that I was a good Catholic girl – this, too shall pass!

I dreamed of a way out of this marriage.  I wanted him gone but again was constrained by the reality of having three small children and no way to support us.  I had become someone I no longer liked – resentful and angry.   Ernie had visited from New Mexico over his Christmas vacation and described his new life in what sounded like a beautiful foreign country…..a dream – bright blue skies, tall mountains, pueblos and wide open spaces. He described doing his sculptures and then taking them to galleries for sale.   When things got tough I imagined a new life there – anywhere but where I felt constrained and trapped in a situation I was unable to change.  I wanted a better, happier life for my babies and I still held onto my dreams of being an artist.

In a few short months my prayers  for release would be answered.  We would pack up the car, get a moving van and be on our way to New Mexico!  The way it happened was ugly and messy!  Bonnie and Frank would literally save my husband’s life!