Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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



21 February 2020 -Llano Quemado, New Mexico –  Last night Josh Gates, Archaeologist and Explorer (Expedition Unknown) began a trek to the Pre-Classic Mayan site of El Mirador in Guatemala (dates back to 2000 BC!).  Was so excited to see them fly into Guatemala City, stock up supplies, load their gear onto helicopters and fly to the island of Flores in the Department of Peten.  I saw familiar places… memories of my empty-handed leap into The Great Unknown!

1956 – First semester of my Junior year at Pulaski High School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Miss Schaefer’s Beginning Spanish Class.  Each year Miss Schaefer and Miss Flynn, the other Spanish language instructor, would spend their Easter vacations exploring countries in Latin America.  On their return that year they co-lectured our class on their visit to Guatemala and all the colorful Easter ceremonies and processions. Miss Flynn described in detail their experiences on Easter Sunday in a city with the exotic name of Chichicastenango!  My sixteen-year old brain couldn’t comprehend the courage it would take to make such a journey!  Their joy in the telling of their experiences made me wonder if one day I could find myself in the middle of that ancient marketplace in Chichicastenango.  I didn’t know when or how….if ever.

Not long after that time my father was transferred back to Chicago.  We packed up the car and on a rainy November day – I waved goodbye to my boyfriend, Bob, and cried big ugly tears to leave my “Happy Days” life behind (Yes, they could have filmed that wonderful program at my high school – with a whole bunch of Fonzie look alikes!).  Life got very serious after our move to the suburbs of the big city. I didn’t want to grow up! – Graduation, secretarial jobs in the Loop, marriage and three children – and in l967 our move to the alien planet of the high desert Southwest. 

1970 – Santa Fe, New Mexico -A few lifetimes  later my art life cried out for change/inspiration and two places were on my wish list.  The first was a train ride from El Paso through Copper Canyon in Mexico all the way to the Pacific Ocean at Topolobampo, Mexico.  Inspired by George Carlson’s pastel paintings of the Tarahumara, I thought “why not”? And the other place which had lived in my dreams for almost 25 years was,  you guessed it, Chchicastenango, Guatemala!!!