Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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



9 August 2019 – Llano Quemado, New Mexico…..Back in the day I had close connections in El Paso.  And today I am thinking of the people who live there.  Some of my best days were spent selling paintings, having lunch at Juliio’s in Juarez, grocery shopping at the Pronaf – making new friends on both sides of the border.  Am trying to imagine what it has been like after the detentions, children in cages and now a massacre!  What do these abominations do to a person’s heart, a community’s soul? How can any parent send their children to school everyday with the fear they might be harmed or killed? What have we become? 

I was born in the midwest and lived both in Chicago and Milwaukee until I was in my late twenties.  My strict German Catholic father was Archie Bunker on steroids –  the only difference was that he wasn’t funny.  He went berserk when Cassius Clay became a Muslim and changed his name to Muhammed Ali.  After the WWII many DPs (displaced persons) immigrated from Europe. Tenants in our four flat house on 7th Street were not at all kind to the Polish family who fled Warsaw without a dime to their name.  Never once did they consider the horrors of their life in “the old country”.  The man made holes through the wooden coal bins in the basement to steal just enough to keep the furnace going so his wife and children were kept warm.  His neighbors were neither welcoming or kind.   Eventually they were driven off to some other neighborhood – hopefully where everyone spoke their language.

Gratefully my Road of Life opened and circumstances forced my move to New Mexico in 1967.  Was I afraid of “the Other”?  Definitely, but I also was aware that I was a guest in this place where most of my neighbors and their families – Hispanic and Native American – lived on this land for centuries.  Did I make mistakes? Did I offend sometimes because I was ignorant to the culture and history of my new home?  A Big Yes!!!  I have been a racial minority in Santa Fe, Truchas and Taos.  My life has been greatly enriched by the diversity – and after 52 years in this place, I am still a most Grateful Guest.

Many years ago my beautiful friend Leonila Serna invited me to a special Mass at San Geronimo Church on Taos Pueblo.  A visiting shaman from one of the northern tribes had been invited to speak to the congregants that Sunday,  Leonila is a special friend.  Over 30 years we have shared our stories. On that particular Sunday, she knew I was going through some difficult days.  The Mass was quiet; the atmosphere was otherworldly.  The shaman/priest was a large presence – strong piercing eyes and large beautiful hands.  His Spirit was Peaceful.  As Mass was ending, we were all invited to receive his blessing.  He touched my forehead and spoke a prayer in his native language.  At that moment I felt changed to my core.  I knelt in the pew afterward, and sobbed.   Some deep hurt and pain was healed that morning.  The memory of the holy man lives in me still.  Sometimes I wonder how anyone can live without “The Other”!

Am rambling this morning – trying to understand why people hate so fiercely – how that hatred would call them to  unspeakable violence.  El Paso will never be the same happy place I knew so long ago.  It is forever changed by this recent trauma.  Personally I feel poisoned by the hatred.  Can’t call this depression, but I am moving toward a degree of hopelessness over our current politics never before experienced.  I am sad.  Keep thinking of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” – 

My imagination takes me to a place of openness….of welcoming The Other.  Seeing the soul in the eyes of anyone we meet…. you will say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one!