Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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

WORD PAINTINGS #62 – TAOS, Monday 3/11/19

A cold and rainy Monday morning.  Want to stay in the cozy warmth of my little bed.  Have a huge mental list of  things I need to accomplish today.  There is always a to do list, isn’t there?  How would my life have purpose and meaning without it? Fixed a good strong cup of coffee, fluffed up my pillows and here I am, all settle in for a few hours – the rest of the day?  Who knows!  This is absolute decadence and I love it!

Yesterday I had a phone call from my brother.  We talked about our dad.  I couldn’t remember when he died – 1979.  My mother was in her late 60s – she was left with nothing.  Still in denial that his death at 67 was brought on by alcoholism, she had never been taught to take care of herself.  He was the “man”, he made the decisions and it was her job to “grin and bear it”.   No one taught her how to drive and when he died she had no clue how to write a check or manage finances!  Her happiest time was when we lived in Milwaukee and she was “allowed” to have a job selling yard goods at Shuster’s Department Store.  Am certain she earned very little, but it was the first time she felt in charge of her life – she felt some measure of power.  That was taken away from her when he decided to follow his job back to Chicago.  None of us had a say in the move.  She had no power over her life until after he died.

In my experience at that time women were handcuffed  by cultural norms. We lived in a Polish neighborhood.  Many traditions came over on the boat from the “old country”.  Roles of women were set in stone.  Being a housewife and mother was okay.  Higher education was a step too far.  Once I graduated from high school and got a job to “help out”, taking care of my parents for the rest of their lives became my job.  It was a given.  College was out of the question.  When I received my acceptance at the Chicago Art Institute and asked my father if I could attend, he said “No daughter of mine will be an artist!”  I felt trapped.  There was no escape.

All of a sudden women were burning their bras and fighting for equal rights.  Feminism became a dirty word.  A “movement” was forming and it had strength and power.  Men dug in. One side against the other.  If you stood up for your rights, you were “one of them”!  I was confused.  Deep inside I had this radical notion that my life was mine – I resented being shackled by what I felt was ruthless convention.  Sadly I was born without the road map – the book titled “How to Be an Artist for Dummies” hadn’t yet been written.  The next fifty years of my life would be a Great Adventure – the very good, the very bad and sometimes the very ugly!  What a ride!!!

Sometimes what starts out as a little memory morphs into a much larger context.  My next blog post after this will be about the strong women I met after moving to New Mexico.  Women who came out West and lived loudly outside the lines. And then came National Woman’s Day last week.  Along with it was talk of reviving the Equal Rights Amendment.  Yes, the woman’s movement was all mixed in with my move to New Mexico.   My voyage of self-discovery took a surprising turn.   I found a way to escape through marriage.  The magic carpet ride became complicated and more than a little confusing.  My father’s words followed me for years.  I never really became a feminist – there wasn’t enough time.  Each day was a new challenge to sort out my priorities – children, law office, painting.  One day at a time, one step at a time – all I ever wanted to do was be a good mother and make art.  Was that so radical?  Thanking my Art Gods every day for the strong and beautiful women who showed me the way…..

Am almost embarrassed (not really) – it is almost noon!  Rise and shine!!!  Oh, NO!!! YES!!! NO!! YES!!! Four more canvases to complete for Gabe Abrums at Chimayo Trading.  Sending him fifteen new pieces at the end of this month; all my work from the first of this year.  Several large blank canvases are standing against the wall just waiting to be sketched.   They have already been painted in my head several times.  Set up a new palette this afternoon….each day a New Beginning!