Sunday, December 16, 2018
Once I faced the financial disaster it looked as though bankruptcy was the only answer. My friends urged me to clear it all out and start over. This didn't feel right to me. It was impossible to know what the future held in store, but it was a no-brainer for me to decide to pay back the creditors. Even though my salary from the law office covered very little, I had received another invitation to the Albuquerque Arts and Crafts Fair for the summer of 1969. I applied and was accepted. All I had to do was work my job at the law office during the day and paint at night and on weekends. I wrote to the creditors and mentally gave myself five years to pay all the bills.
I filed for divorce. Joe Lawler represented me at court. He was on my side. Somehow I upset Judge Donnelly and my gut told me he did not approve of the decision to end my marriage. We were negotiating final property settlement and the amount of support payments. I was "awarded" $250 a month. Nothing was ever mentioned about my forged signature on the $25,000 Los Alamos loan. I learned fast that it was a "man's world".
Found a house in Casa Alegre which was $100 a month cheaper. It hurt to leave that cute little place in Casa Solana. My new landlord was a dark soul and I knew he would never ever ever give me a break on the rent. The house itself had seen better days, definitely kind of dingy which well suited my mood at the time. After setting up the bedrooms for John and the girls, I put up my easel in a corner of the "den"and got out all my art supplies. As my friend Margaret Jamison would always say, I had gotten down to the "nut cutting"! I was on my own. Some days independence was my friend and, usually at the end of every month when the bills came due, it was my fiercest foe!
My first bold move was to advertise an evening sketch class. Bruce Rolstad, Pastor, rented classroom space to me for a small fee. About 20 of us met in the basement of Unity Church once a week. I taught the basics of drawing to a really nice group of adults - 12 lessons for $40.00. Every little bit helped.
The shock of the separation and the move was hard on all of us. Slowly we all began to adjust to the changes. A babysitter/housekeeper named Mrs. Quintana was hired at $40.00 a week. She showed up on time each weekday morning, however my neighbors told me that as soon as I left her husband appeared with a truckload of their family laundry - she had ten children of her own. My children also became familiar with that monster, Kokoman; if they didn't behave she threatened them with his wrath!
Ernie was in the process of building his new house on the ridge of Stagecoach Road north of town. Even though he remained friends with my husband, I knew I could count on him to help out in a pinch. He would come over for a cup of coffee and check out the fridge. If it wasn't full, the next day he would appear with several bags of groceries. It seemed to make him happy to be Father Christmas that first year. John went along in Ernie's pick up truck out to Pecos. They crunched through the snow and cut down a pretty little tree. Once we put up some lights, that dark old house came to life. He gave me $200 and we went to Albuquerque and I was able to buy some toys and clothes for my wild bunch.
A solid routine developed for us that winter. After work I would stop at the grocery store for supper fixings. It was a relief to get home. My babies were becoming great little people and we were forming quite a team. After supper I would take a hot bath and all three of them would lean their elbows on the side of the tub and we would just talk. After my bath I would put on my painting clothes and tuck the munchkins into bed. My second workday was beginning. My estimate was that I would need forty or fifty small paintings for the Arts and Crafts Fair that summer. No choice but to work every night until past midnight - sometimes two or three in the morning. I would go to bed in my work clothes. One by one three little bodies showed up at my twin bed - I lifted the covers - one next to me, two at the bottom. Best part of it, we were all together! The next morning I would fix breakfast, put on my big lady law office clothes - Mrs. Quintana would show up and we would do it all over again!
Just a few days ago I was having lunch with a friend here in Taos and told him about my work routine so long ago. I continued that crazy schedule and produced 400 paintings that year - small plein air studies. Truth is it was basic training. I had no choice but to produce work to support my family. Little did I know then but this was the true beginning of my life as an artist. This was my "trial by fire"!
Thursday, December 13, 2018
Do you ever ask yourself "what if?" - What if my husband had been faithful and true and we never had to escape to New Mexico? What if my father was open to helping me when my husband threatened the four of us and I had packed up my babies and moved back to Chicago? My teenage dreams for my future had been very simple. I pictured having a loving life partner, three or four beautiful children. I would be a stay at home mom - cook good Polish meals and, when there was a little time left over, I might be able to paint at the kitchen table on Sunday afternoons. There is an old saying that whenever humans make plans, God laughs!
Now the four of us were alone in our house in Casa Solana. At the ripe old age of 30, I finally learned how to drive. I began my new job at the law firm of McKenna, Sommer & Lawler at the old offices in La Posada. My heart broke every morning when I had to leave for work and there were tears and screams for Mama to stay home. John was three and the twins were two. There was nothing I could say or do to make them feel better about the monumental change in their little lives. Their worlds were shattered and so was mine.
There was no time to think. Learning a new job as a secretary to three very busy lawyers took all my energy. Trying to get through dinner was a challenge - we all had to adjust to this new schedule - this new life and it was very sad and difficult for all of us. My husband still insisted on secrecy regarding the separation. He definitely did not want his mother to find out. Much later I discovered that she had regularly been sending him huge checks in order to "feed his children" - these payments were secrets he kept from me. His visits to the children were sporadic. Promises of visits were broken and my babies didn't understand that sometimes adults didn't keep their word. Nothing sadder than a little boy standing at the front window in tears waiting for his daddy who just "forgot"!
Time for a reality check. A fearless and thorough financial inventory. My monthly salary was $400! The monthly house payment was $250. The mortgage was $21,000 with a balloon payment of $5000 looming. The babysitter was $40.00 a week. Overdue bills were stashed all over the house. Sorting through them I realized they were my responsibility - about $15,000. I couldn't live in the same town owing money to people who had trusted us to pay them back. Groceries, doctor bills and three little bodies growing out of their clothes every day! My only consolation was that I felt strongly that the financial bleeding had been stemmed. I took comfort in the separation. Whatever made me think I could do this alone? Truth is I had always been alone in this marriage. Was I afraid? Yes!!!! This was not a time for "common sense". It was time for an empty-handed leap into the void!
All was not hopeless. I had a car. My job was at a Law Office! Divorce requires good lawyerly advice and I was working for three of the best. One day when I was freaking out about filing divorce papers, Mr. McKenna said "Donna, you can either tear off an infected arm, or you can remove it surgically." Much cleaner that way. I filed the papers. I still had my art supplies and the experience of Jan Herring's workshop at Cloudcroft. She supported her family with her art. Had to go to the pharmacy down the street to get medicine for one of the girls. Walking back to the office, I decided to cut myself loose from this man. It sounds crazy, but instead of fear, I felt free for the first time in my life!
The doorbell rang one afternoon. Two fellows from the Los Alamos Credit Union with very serious looks on their faces were standing at the door. They were there to collect all my furniture, including the baby cribs! My husband had defaulted on "our" loan for $25,000! What loan? They produced a copy of the contract and pointed to a signature which wasn't mine! Told them my name had been forged and I was not responsible for any part of this fraud. Also mentioned "my" law office and they left without my furniture! Sometimes divorce is the only answer!!! This was my wake up call. Any doubts I had about moving forward evaporated.
God is still laughing!
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
During the time of not writing, I was remembering - people, places and life so long ago. The memories come in bits and pieces - definitely some happy times and, of course some pain and agony in order to ward off any complacency! What made me think these blog posts would all be happy, happy? In truth I wanted to avoid any hint of trouble in Paradise - cover it over, bury it. This is an archaeological dig - and as I sift through all the dirt, pebbles and some huge boulders, I am beginning to realize that perhaps the Universe had a plan for my life and all I did was follow the "life arrows" when they became obvious.
Completed a 36"x60" canvas the other day. Began to cry as I put down the brushes. It was such an amazing day. I listened to the Met broadcast and was transported to my "other world" - that dreamy place where paintings are imagined before they come to life. The sun streamed in from the front window and I cried. Thought of the old man who gave me all his paints and brushed so long ago. Yes, it has been over seventy years now and even though I threaten to quit with some regularity, I still LOVE to paint! The smells of oils and turpentine make me giddy. I am addicted to the process. To my knowledge there is no twelve step recovery program for working artists. Every day is a new beginning!
There are 12 small studies from the trip to Truchas propped up on my large easel - all underpainted and just ready to be completed. Opened the large carton of new frames yesterday. Today I will set up a new palette of fresh colors and begin my "winter work". Love this time of year, especially after the holidays. Everything becomes quiet and peaceful. It is my habit to hibernate through the long, cold days, emerging each spring with new paintings. Snow storms, audio books while I work, an evening meal in the crockpot, and a blank canvas. A place of all possibilities! How did I get so lucky?
Promising myself to post to this blog with greater regularity. There is a huge trunk here in my little Taos house filled with memories. Determined to be open and truthful. So many stories to tell.....DC
Sunday, November 18, 2018
Our last stop on my trip to Truchas late last month - the huge horse ranch at the end of the road. That first day so long ago I remember standing in the middle of the enormous wooden horse barn thinking "Where am I? Who am I and what am I doing here?" The reality was that this was my true "end of the road". I would be forever changed by this peace and isolation. This was my place of rebirth.
The ranch was on about 20 acres on the highest part of the property in an area of Truchas called Llano Quemado (Burnt Plain) - I fondly named it "suburban Truchas". A gate at the end of the road opened to the ranch and led to the Land Grant where neighbors pastured some of their cattle. About 17 people lived here - my nearest neighbor was a rancher named Nestor Martinez.
The ranch was built by a doctor from Dallas who also had a clinic in Santa Fe. He raised pure bred Peruvian Paso Fino horses and the ranch was built specifically to nurture and grow show animals. For some strange reason he and his wife had to return to Dallas in great haste. We heard of the ranch from a friend at a summer party in Santa Fe. I met him and we had lunch at Rancho de Chimayo. During the lunch I felt that I was floating above the conversation - hardly hearing what was being said. There was no turning back. On our way to the ranch, he pointed out the little red roof hills and valleys away from the highway. I never doubted that this was my new place of belonging. Tucked away right under Truchas Peaks, isolated from the Santa Fe social scene, it was perfect.
Under the little red roof was a 500 sq. foot two story cottage designed by the doctor and his wife as a romantic getaway. (The painting of the little house above called "Home, home on the Range")There was a huge wooden horse barn, stalls and a fully equipped apartment with a huge window overlooking a birthing stall. A large open paddock in front of the barn was where the horses grazed and were exercised. There was also a mobile home right off the exercise path with a huge wooden teepee platform near the front door. A beautifully adorned and truly authentic gypsy wagon was parked a short distance from the mobile home. Even though we were essentially caretakers, we were expected to pay a monthly rent of $500. I anticipated that the money would come from the sales of my paintings. The horses were gone and the ranch was on the market. I was in love with this place and hoped I could live there the rest of my life! Dreamer!
Our first purchase before making the move was a small freezer purchased from Sears for $600. We put it in the little shed next to the house and stocked it with food for the long winter ahead. Heavy snow on the Peaks that first day justified buying winter supplies and gave me a tremendous sense of security. Sure enough that Christmas it snowed for three days. School was out for the holidays and the snow plows didn't come through for about two weeks. A winter silence settled in all around - nothing moved. Pots of green chili - reading books by the little horno fireplace - hibernating until the road was plowed and life could begin again. Big mountain lion paw prints under the front portal.
Worlds away from Chicago, miles away from Santa Fe. Thinking I had successfully escaped from the drama and chaos of life as it had been, this was my first opportunity to take a long, hard look at myself. It didn't happen all at once - facing reality came slowly. Time for a fearless and thorough inventory and Llano Quemado was the perfect place to begin......
Sunday, November 4, 2018
Drove through Truchas two weeks ago and it brought back so many memories of the first time I moved to the horse ranch on Llano Quemado next to the Land Grant from the King of Spain. I have alway referred to it as "suburban Truchas"! We drove up from Santa Fe on September 17th, 1982. The first wild snowstorm swirled around Truchas Peaks that day. It was raining at the ranch when we arrived. We were situated so near the mountains they were almost touchable. Seventeen people lived on the Llano - isolated - quiet, peaceful.
Our first visitor was Cosme Romero, Mayordomo of Truchas. (The painting above is his pride and joy - a beautiful stand of scrub oaks at the back of his property). A Mayordomo is the official elected to maintain the irrigation system known as the Acequia Madre -- centuries old "Mother Ditches" that bring water from the mountains to the villages here in northern New Mexico. He oversees the spring cleaning of the ditches (as seen in the painting) and manages control of the water to ranches and fields. Mr. Romero wanted to introduce himself; in reality he was checking us out. A few days later he came calling again - this time he brought his wife, Carmelita, and his daughter, Susie. Thus began a new and amazing chapter of my life. Again I felt that some power I did not understand picked me up bodily and plunked me down to where I needed to be - no ifs, ands, or buts. From the distance of years now, I have the feeling there was something unseen at work that led me to this place, I just had not been let in on all the secrets.
Am writing this now because just passing their house (The little blue roof to the right of the road) two weeks ago made the whole family real to me again. It is impossible to describe my relationship to Truchas without including the Romero family. In some strange way, - even though it wasn't official, they adopted me as one of their own . They were a real family - all seven of them! I never really understood how this closeness came to be - was it because of my paintings? Did it help that the Pope and I were Polish? I'll never know. What I do know is that once again I was being helped, cared for by some wonderful new friends. Through my work and in many other ways, I tried to give back in kind. Eventually this wonderful family and the old church would conspire to save my life. Am trying to keep these stories in context. Obviously this recent day trip triggered memories which need to be written now! It was no accident that I landed on that horse ranch on that snowy September day so long ago. Am hoping the full story will come later...Stay tuned.
Meeting Cosme Romero was the beginning of my Truchas life He was a kind and gracious man with a wonderful sense of humor....unforgettable.
MAYORDOMO - Original Oil by Donna Clair - in honor of my friend and neighbor, Cosme Romero, Mayordomo of Truchas, New Mexico.
Thursday, November 1, 2018
SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY PART III - SOUL FOOD - For the past two years I have been living in a very comfortable and "workable" little house in Taos. Only one problem - I am visually starved! This house is closed in - no views! I need to see mountains, clouds, sunsets - distance, space....soul food! On my trip to Truchas with my old friend Geraint about ten days ago, I took about 200 photos - some have been printed out and will be small studies I will work on this winter. More memories.....
The above painting (Afternoon Visitors) was the scene from my little adobe house - the building in back of the horses is Bill Franke's Hand Artes Gallery. One of our neighbors would let his horses run free and they roamed the village eating all the good grass along the road. This fine group appear in another painting called "Saturday Afternoon Stroll". The painting below is the view I had from my front door "Don Gregorio's Most Beautiful Field". Summer, winter, fall, spring - it was a feast for the eyes - a meditation.
There is much talk in the art world these days about "cultural appropriation". I had an experience in Zunil, Guatemala which brought this home to me full force. I was photographing villagers on a feast day from inside our bus. A young girl in the crowd saw me and stared with such anger and hatred I knew I had trespassed - I had become an Ugly American. Stunned and ashamed of myself, I put the camera down. I did about eight paintings of market places when I got home. It no longer felt right to me. If I was being rigorously honest with myself, I was exploiting another culture for profit. From that time on I made it a rule to paint what I lived first hand - landscapes, views from my kitchen window in Taos. My experience with Andrew Wyeth's retrospective at the Chicago Art Institute came alive. From that time on my work became very personal....the story of my life in New Mexico.
Truchas is a visual feast for me. The light is pure, unfiltered. The skies are dramatic and spectacular.
One view can be the source for many paintings - different times of the day - different seasons.Never dull. Summer storms, rainbows - spectacular clouds - movement - moment to moment change. A long time ago my friend and mentor, Margaret Jamison, told me that Truchas was my spiritual home....definitely a place of healing for me.
The paintings also reflect my friendships with my neighbors. Their stories are woven into each painting. One special memory is the day I was invited to Delfino Fernandez' house for a cafecita. Mrs. Fernandez brought out her large photo albums. I can still see the photo of her ancient mother and father holding a large American flag, standing beside the grave of their son who died in WWII. Another memory of Susie Romero taking me upstairs in the old church and showing me the long list of Truchas men who fought overseas. Some memories are small and some profound....never forgotten!
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
10/29/18 - Taos, New Mexico - Many, many memories from my trip through Truchas last Monday....
MY SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY Part II - Don Eusavio's Paradise
Moving back to Truchas for the second time, I wasn't looking for a Zen master, but that is exactly who I found. His name was Don Eusavio. He was a very old man and lived one small field away next door to me. He owned a fairly large property - a big adobe house with several sheds in back. Right next to the house was a small "capilla" - a little chapel he had built for his wife. By that time she had been gone for many years and he lived quite alone.
This week I realized that besides My Old Artist in Chicago when I was eight years old, I was blessed to have another Wayshower in Don Eusavio. The Artist and I met only once, Don Eusavio and I met twice - once when I moved into Susie Romero's adobe and once when I was leaving to move back to Taos. These two men changed my life in ways I never fully understood until now. At the age of 20 I had left my family home without a roadmap. In the game of life, they left out the directions on how to live a sane and happy life. I was now in my mid-forties and as always, my lifeline was my painting. I looked grown up, but I was still a lost child.
First thing each morning there was a hammering and tapping from one of the sheds in back of Don Eusavio's house. I'd look at his house and then at the magnificent Truchas Peak still amazed how a girl from the Southside of Chicago came to live with such quiet beauty. About noon the hammering stopped and I watched the old man take an armful of logs into the house. Soon smoke would rise from the chimney and I imagined him cooking his lunch. Later he might put on his green baseball cap and take an orange bucket to climb a ladder and pick apricots from the tree in front of his house. Everything he did was slow and deliberate. He lived a very simple life. My life had always been so chaotic, filled with drama and confusion. It occurred to me that this old man was setting an example for me to follow and slowly I noticed how he lived with purpose and meaning, but without all the noise. Slowly I began to change.
One day Don Eusavio appeared at my front gate with his best girl, Rosita. My guess was that they were both in their eighties! Baseball cap in hand, he introduced himself and his friend. They spoke only Spanish, but I understood that this was a "welcome to the neighborhood" visit. I invited them in, but they were on their way to meet with friends at Clarence's tavern. Doing the best I could with my one semester of high school Spanish, I thanked them for stopping by and really felt honored by their visit.
Much later when it came time for me to move back to Taos I was in trouble moneywise. I had hired movers on a wing and a prayer and I had no way to pay them! Bill's gallery across the street had not sold anything for a while. In between packing my boxes, I stopped in to say goodbye to the friends I had made this time. It had always been my intention to live beneath those mountains for the rest of my life. A plot in the little cemetery down the road cost $75 - and that was my plan. Am certain that the minute I make plans, God roars with laughter!
One of my friends from down the road knocked on the door and said that Don Eusavio wanted me to stop by that afternoon, he had a gift for me. We walked over to his house, he was standing in front of the capilla and opened the door for us. The floor was covered with linoleum and at the far end of the room was an "altaro" with photos and some statues of the saints. A simple room built with great love.
Don Eusavio gestured to the altar and told me to pick out any one of the statues to take with me to Taos. I chose a small plaster figure of the Santo Nino de Atocha - the patron saint of children and prisoners. There were words of gratitude - I had been blessed by goodness.
Walking back to my house, Bill shouted out that he had just sold a $4000 painting! Yes, I believe in miracles! Some tears as I write this morning. Observing my neighbor's simple life changed me in profound ways. I learned to live without all the drama - just doing the things in life which must be done - one day at a time, one painting at a time. God bless you, Don Eusavio....
Painted in memory of Don Eusavio - ESPIRITU BLANCO
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