Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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



Our last stop on my trip to Truchas late last month – the huge horse ranch at the end of the road.  That first day so long ago I remember standing in the middle of the enormous wooden horse barn thinking “Where am I? Who am I and what am I doing here?”  The reality was that this was my true “end of the road”.   I would be forever changed by this peace and isolation.  This was  my place of rebirth.

The ranch was on about 20 acres on the highest part of the property in an area of Truchas called Llano Quemado (Burnt Plain) – I fondly named it “suburban Truchas”.  A gate at the end of the road opened to the ranch and led to the Land Grant where neighbors pastured some of their cattle.  About 17 people lived here – my nearest neighbor was a rancher named Nestor Martinez.

The ranch was built by a doctor from Dallas who also had a clinic in Santa Fe.  He raised pure bred Peruvian Paso Fino horses and the ranch was built specifically to nurture and grow show animals.  For some strange reason he and his wife had to return to Dallas in great haste.  We heard of the ranch from a friend at a summer party in Santa Fe.  I met him and we had lunch at Rancho de Chimayo.  During the lunch I felt that I was floating above the conversation – hardly hearing what was being said.  There was no turning back.  On our way to the ranch, he pointed out the little red roof hills and valleys away from the highway.  I never doubted that this was my new place of belonging.  Tucked away right under Truchas Peaks, isolated from the Santa Fe social scene, it was perfect.

Under the little red roof was a 500 sq. foot two story cottage designed by the doctor and his wife as a romantic getaway.  (The painting of the little house above called “Home, home on the Range”)There was a huge wooden horse barn, stalls and a fully equipped apartment with a huge window overlooking a birthing stall.  A large open paddock in front of the barn was where the horses grazed and were exercised.  There was also a mobile home right off the exercise path with a huge wooden teepee platform near the front door.  A beautifully adorned and truly authentic gypsy wagon was parked a short distance from the mobile home.  Even though we were essentially caretakers, we were expected to pay a monthly rent of $500.  I anticipated that the money would come from the sales of my paintings.  The horses were gone and the ranch was on the market.  I was in love with this place and hoped I could live there the rest of my life!  Dreamer!

Our first purchase before making the move was a small freezer purchased from Sears for $600.  We put it in the little shed next to the house and stocked it with food for the long winter ahead.  Heavy snow on the Peaks that first day justified buying winter supplies and gave me a tremendous sense of security.  Sure enough that Christmas it snowed for three days.  School was out for the holidays and the snow plows didn’t come through for about two weeks.  A winter silence settled in all around – nothing moved.  Pots of green chili – reading books by the little horno fireplace – hibernating until the road was plowed and life could  begin again.  Big mountain lion paw prints under the front portal.  

Worlds away from Chicago, miles away from Santa Fe.  Thinking I had successfully escaped from the drama and chaos of life as it had been, this was my first opportunity to take a long, hard look at myself.  It didn’t happen all at once – facing reality came slowly.  Time for a fearless and thorough inventory and Llano Quemado was the perfect place to begin……