Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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


Guatemalan Tiendita

“A dream is a wish your heart makes when you’re fast asleep”. Remembering that day in 1956 when teachers Ms. Schaefer and Ms. Flynn regaled my Spanish class with colorful stories of their trip to Guatemala. Their excitement about spending Easter Sunday in an exotic-sounding place called Chichicastenango was joyful!!! Chills, goosebumps, their excitement was contagious! I said the strange name to myself over and over “Chichicastenango” – it needed to be tucked away – never forgotten. Thirty-five years of life passed….children, marriages, divorces, recovery. It was possible that our move from Chicago to the alien planet of Santa Fe, New Mexico, trips to Mexico – my life on the horse ranch in Truchas was as far as I would go. There would be no more surprises. No time for my Dreams of Distant Places! The name was almost lost to me until that morning in my Taos studio when I heard it again on the radio ad. Shivers of anticipation. Nothing was holding me back (except for my agoraphobia). Excitement. Yes indeed, my much younger self jumped for pure joy.

1991 – Walking through the plaza of Chichicastenango on Easter Sunday morning!!! Brilliant colors, clouds of incense, firecrackers -wonderful heart-stopping chaos! Christ is risen. I couldn’t breathe! I couldn’t hold enough of the experience in my body. Noise, crowds of strangers , I was transported – five feet off the ground – having the most amazing experience of my life!!!! A dream fulfilled! Following the cobblestone paths wherever they led I had a day full of adventure.Vendors with their bright weavings propped up on poles leaning against the walls of the houses lining the streets. Some of the huipils still had a sweet smell of smoke – they had been woven on looms next to their home fires. Food stalls, jewelry, pottery it was the best fiesta – a celebration of Life!

The Cofradia processed to the Iglesia of Santo Tomas. Solemn. All my young girl Catholicism rushed back to life. How much of their ancient religion was still there, covered by the pomp of these more modern rituals? Their strong faces mirrored the sculptures in a museum we visited – in Tikal and Copan. The Mayan culture that had “disappeared” was living and breathing right before my eyes. The wonder and the mystery is still there. Their culture survives in secret places – private rituals – heart prayers. This might seem heretical to both cultures, but I have an idea that their ancient gods and our not so ancient saints are somehow all connected. It is quite possible we all pray to the same God.


For most of my adult life I had been asleep to the ways of the world….until Guatemala! Easter Sunday was only the beginning……