Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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



There definitely is a certain poetry to life and it is usually discovered through the distance of time.  Waking up to reality, deep awareness is not for everyone.  I did not choose to wake up and gratefully scotch was helping me stay numb to many events from my childhood.  Debilitating panic attacks were frequent visitors.  Many were triggered by the presence of Ernie’s loaded guns all over our house.  He had developed Grave’s disease, had surgery; as he was recovering, developed a growing paranoia.  I wanted to stay to help him, but feared for the safety of my children.  That divorce destroyed our family in 1979.  The word “stalking” was not part of everyday vocabulary, but Ernie was around every corner for the next two years. One day he  appeared at my kitchen window at 6AM staring at me as I fixed my coffee.  His behavior became very menacing.  More drinking, more numbing myself out, more searching for answers.  I felt trapped in a downward spiral and feared there was no escape.

For one or two hours every Sunday I found a certain comfort and sense of safety at a New Age church service at the Santa Fe Women’s Club.  Met a lady named Elizabeth Couse from Taos, the granddaughter of well-known painter E.I. Couse.  Elizabeth was a nurse at the Embudo Treatment Center.  Stay with me here – it eventually all comes together – miracles do happen!

There was cake and coffee after  the final song “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me…”  I clung to every hopeful word! One Sunday a tall pleasant man introduced himself and over the course of several months we became friends.  Everyone at the church spoke very highly of him and I began to feel comfortable in his presence.  This was not a match made in Heaven for either one of us – we carried separate baggage and  totally different agendas.  The minister from the church married us.  Ironically, she knew his entire history and kept his secrets.  If she had told me about his past, the rest of my story would be a blank page.  The Universe works in very mysterious ways!

September 17th, 1982 – Truchas, New Mexico.  We emptied the pick-up trucks of cartons and began our new lives on the horse ranch at the end of a narrow dirt road that led to the Land Grant from the King of Spain.  Miles away from Santa Fe I breathed great sighs of relief.  The noise of my city life began to retreat into the background.  The panic attacks were less frequent as were the instances of recovered childhood memories.  Excitedly I unpacked my paints and brushes.  Enthralled by the beauty all around me I went to work on some new canvases as soon as possible.  I really wasn’t fully aware that my life had been profoundly changed and I could never ever return to the old version of myself.

Each day was a new discovery – a new adventure.  Our neighbors generously shared the history of the village and their family stories.  A deep connection to this village began to build.  It certainly helped that the Pope and I were Polish – no other introduction was necessary!  My new landscape paintings opened wonderful doors – opportunities to know another culture. I felt so privileged to be a guest in this amazing place! 

Truchas is an agricultural community –  In spring the fields are plowed, the seeds planted.  Parcientes gather in teams to clean the acequias.  Livestock is herded  to lush summer pastures higher in the mountains.  As autumn approaches preparation for winter begins.  Chainsaws and pick-up trucks – cords of wood stacked neatly beside the adobe houses.  In this place a man’s wealth is judged by the size of his woodpile!! Fields of hay are baled.  Pantry shelves groan under the weight of Mason jars filled with fruits and vegetables – hopefully enough to get through the winter. Livestock returns to lower fields.  Bales of hay are stacked  high in sheds and barns.  Fences are repaired and life becomes a silent preparation for the snowy days ahead.  

Watching and listening, I began to understand the self-sustaining nature of life in the mountains. Rhythm of the seasons, everyday routines gave life meaning and purpose.  After a time my friend Margaret Jamison would refer to Truchas as my spiritual home!   I never wanted to leave!!!