Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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


The time arrived to frame up my paintings and get them ready to exhibit.  The Albuquerque Arts and Crafts show had been held at the State Fair Grounds every summer for about five years. As of this writing, it is now 54 years old.  Ernie had been showing his welded sculptures there for a few years and usually sold out.  This fair was a substantial source of his income.  He had urged me to enter, I was accepted and now I needed to show up.

When the time came I had about 25 framed paintings.  My prices were quite low and my first time out, I sold $1000 worth of work.  I was elated.  As a result of this happy experience, I would continue doing art fairs – sometimes three or four a year…Albuquerque, Laguna Gloria in Austin – some holiday fairs in Santa Fe.  This was a great learning experience for me.  In each city I made new art friends who stayed with me for many years.  They started out as buyers and stayed over to become true friends.  What I loved about selling directly to the public was seeing their response to my work.  Most of it was very positive and encouraging.  I loved it!

An added bonus to selling my paintings was visiting the booths of other artists and talking to them about their work.   I met the now famous Santa Clara Pueblo painter Pablita Velarde.  The fair was also an important part of her income.  We talked about the resistance we faced because we made art.  The elders of her pueblo did not look upon her paintings kindly.  My father and my husband were dead set against me pursuing my art.  I had found a kindred spirit!

Basketmaking, c. 1940, by Pablita Velarde

In a 1979 interview she said, “Painting was not considered women’s
work in my time. A woman was supposed to be just a woman, like a
housewife and a mother and chief cook. Those were things I wasn’t
interested in.”

That year I also met another Santa Clara artist, the exquisite Grace Medicine Flower, a now world famous potter! (Grace Medicine Flower was born in 1938 at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico.[1] She is a member of the famous Tafoya pottery family and the niece of Margaret Tafoya. Her pots from 1968 to 1972 were done in collaboration with her father, Camilio Tafoya, and are signed by both of them.) Grace and I talked for a long time and she introduced me to her handsome brother, Joseph Lonewolf.

This was my first experience of being introduced to the Native American culture.  As we laughed and shared our stories, we were women together trying to support our families with our work.  In later years I would cross paths with Pablita – once when she was helping her daughter, Helen Hardin, hang her solo gallery exhibit in Santa Fe. They are both gone now and the world is a much sadder and less colorful place without them.