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

Saturday, October 27, 2018


It is an autumn ritual for me to do some "backroading", taking photos to use as source material for my winter work.  Since I no longer drive, I called my friend Geraint Smith  ( and booked an afternoon tour to Truchas.  We started out near the river at Pilar.  The trees were magnificent.  I was reminded of the book Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor.  There were places on these little roads where the trees were still in full color, their branches arching over the road - it was otherworldly - there is serenity in those trees!

We traveled through some little villages. As Jicarita Peak and Truchas Peaks came into view, I was grateful to have lived with them for so many years.    They are part of me.   Monday was overcast and rainy.  There were snow squalls on the peaks.  Dark clouds were giving hints of winter storms to come.  I remembered those early winter afternoons in my little adobe house, watching the light change on the mountain.  The thrill of the wind and rain - the coming snow - a fire in the woodstove with a pot of soup or stew boiling away on top.  In a way I was reborn in this place.

This trip to Truchas felt different - in a way I no longer felt a part of it. After all these years, I was an outsider looking in.  Buildings have changed and most of the people I knew and considered my friends are now gone.  Almost a week later I am having flashbacks to my life on the horse ranch and the village.

Coming into Truchas there is a little camposanto to the left adjacent to the morada.  I thought of the secret and sacred rituals held in that place - the stories of the "Tieneblas" - when everything goes dark and there is great noise and turbulence.  Many years ago there was a Santa Fe artist who opened a gallery in town.   One Good Friday he had been invited to the moraada .  His ego got the best of him and he decided to wear a tape recorder attached to his ankle.  The men in the morada caught him and he was physically removed by the angry men. The next day he, his wife and all their belongings were loaded on the back of his pick up truck and he was told  to leave town and never to return.

We passed the house of my old friend, Pedro Ribera Ortega.   Pedro taught Latin at the high school in Santa Fe.  My son was one of his students.  His house was called "La Casa de las Ruedas" - the  house of wheels.  Wheels everywhere - the symbol of Life. Was astonished the first time I was invited for coffee. The entryway was a closed in patio with a large statue of the Virgin Mary at the far end.  Everywhere I looked there were "plasticos" - plastic graveside flowers.  One of Pedro's friends worked as a caretaker at Rosario Cemetary and he offered a never-ending supply of flowery tributes to the Virgin.  The back of his house were floor to ceiling shelves of old, old books - histories of northern New Mexico.  Pedro was an archivist  and geneologist. All of his time away from teaching was spent  listening  and writing down stories from the villagers who also brought them maps and deeds of their lands in Truchas.  His little adobe house contained many treasures.  Pedro died many years ago and I heard he had no immediate family.   As we passed his house on Monday, I noticed that the roof in the back of the house was gone and only tumbled down rafters and vigas were all that remained.  I thought 9f his treasures and hoped they had been rescued and are now stored in a safe place.

La Nuestra Senora del Rosario, the centuries old church has been restored.  I recalled the time I donated a painting and my friends Susie Romero and her sisters spent weekends selling raffle tickets at the mall in Santa Fe....$4000 enough to pay for the materials to have the old beauty remudded and brought back to life.  My first Easter in the village I was invited to participate in a Good Friday ritual called the Encuentro, the last meeting between Mary and her son.  The memory of singing alabados with the women as they carried the statue of the Virgin dressed in black to the door of the little church; the men of the village, the penitentes outside the door with the large Christo on the cross will always be with me.  Those old carvings came alive for me - I deeply felt their sorrow.  We sang the words for the Virgin Mary "Jesus, querido".  Susie and her mother Carmelita knew all the words of the sacred songs.  They are gone now.  In my imagination the old songs are still alive in the walls of that old church.  

That Easter season in Truchas was life-changing  As I walked home from the Encuentro it felt as though my feet weren't touching the ground - I felt Grace.  The clouds over the mountain had cleared and the sun felt warm.   In a short time I realized the phone company had cut off my service for my unpaid bill.  Waiting for payment from the gallery, I was without contact to the outside world for three weeks.  I knew that this was was somehow connected to my experience at the old church on Good Friday.  No  troubles came to me from the outside - everything became still and I learned the value of silence.      
The general store is closed now. Flashes of the days I would walk down the road to get my mail at the store, buy a loaf of bread and chat with Ercilia Tafoya.  Ercilia was born in the nearby village of Cordova and on one visit she told me the history of her family.  There is the entrance to a huge canyon near the end of the village and stories of buried treasure in that place.  I am certain there are seekers posing as hikers still hoping to find their fortune.

A little further down the road in the left was the little adobe I rented from Susie Romero. This was the second time I lived in Truchas.  The only heat was  a wood stove in the living room. I bought two or three cords of wood that winter.  I had bricks laid down on the carport and closed it in with low adobe walls and large windows gave me plenty of great daylight.  On many winter days it was a challenge to go out there to paint, but  I did some of my best work in that "studio".  During my visit on Monday I thought of the winter nights I would look out my window and watch the full moon rise over Truchas Peaks - so large and bright it made "moonshadows".  I often wondered what miracle brought me to this place as a witness to such magic!

We stopped the car to say hello to Bill Franke who was watering his flowers near the road.   Bill owns the Hand Artes Gallery.  Successful for many years, he sold all the work I could give him back in the day.  Juan Gabriel, the hugely famous Mexican singer bought a painting one day and visited with me at the studio.  The image he purchased was of an old woman and a little boy walking together along a country road. He told me in Spanish that the image reminded him of his mother.  Many friends and collectors were introduced to my work through Bill's gallery.  I so enjoyed that time! I felt energetic and the paintings just flowed. Living in the village was a great inspiration! (To be continued)

Monday, October 15, 2018


Am overwhelmed as I write down this part of my less than four years I gave birth to three babies, caught my husband cheating, moved to New Mexico, took a painting workshop in Cloudcroft, exhibited my work in public for the first time - and decided I could provide a better life for my children alone!

Except for three little ones making their needs known, the house became very quiet.  I was too surprised to be scared.  Secretly I was hoping the shock would bring him to his senses, he would see the error of his ways, get down on bended knee and beg forgiveness. What was I thinking?  I really didn't want him back!  Now that I think of it, he never did say he was sorry for anything!  If nothing changed, we were headed for a divorce.  Nevertheless I was sworn to absolute secrecy.  He didn't want anyone  to know of the separation, especially his mother. He said he might lose his job and in that case I would get no support from him.  Truth his intention was to support us as little as possible. 

Patti, my babysitter lived across the street.  I told her what was happening.  Her father worked at the State Capitol Building and knew of a lawyer who needed a secretary.  I hadn't worked in an office since John was born and didn't know a plaintiff from a defendant.   Putting on my best face, I applied for the job anyway.  They hired me!  Wow!  McKenna, Sommer & Lawler had offices at La Posada right across from the old hospital. The only hitch is that I didn't have a car and I didn't know how to drive! -- remember, one bite at a time.  Patti's dad agreed to take me to work for a week or two.

The fridge was empty.  What to do? It was a warm summer evening when I got home from work.  I put on my tennis shoes. The twins rode in their red wagon.  Holding John's hand, the four of us paraded two blocks to Piggly Wiggly for some groceries. We did this for about two weeks until it was obvious my neighbor's favors were wearing thin. I needed my own car.

Ernie took me to Dick Hughes Volkswagen on Marquez Place and I bought a 1963 green and white VW Bus for $600!  It had a stick shift.  After I signed the papers, the men showed me what the gears meant by making the sign of the "H" - Aargh!  Then they sent me on my merry way on St. Michael's Drive, right into 5:00 traffic. Why were all those angry drivers honking and waving their fists at me?   I was to follow Ernie, but lost him in the first few blocks, I just kept on grinding gears all the way home!  I still had $400 in my pocket for more groceries and the $250 house payment!  I was terrified and absolutely giddy all at once!

One step at a time, one day at a time.....I was almost too busy to notice that once the decision was made to take responsibility for the four of us, things began to fall into place - more than Doers, we are Deciders!


How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time!

WHAT WAS I THINKING?  Truth is I wasn't thinking - I was blinded by rage!  You clueless sonofabitch! How could you threaten your own babies?  I was more than terrified that one day he might lose it and act on his threats! My theory regarding verbal threats, if you say it, you can do it!   The following week I wandered around in a daze.  When I was a child I learned to "numb myself out" in order to escape the threats of violence.   It was really easy for me to not feel anything!   Of course I blamed myself for getting angry - if I hadn't confronted him, life would be a dream wouldn't it?  I began to take stock of my situation and things looked pretty bleak.   Told him I wanted a divorce.  "You are so stupid - you have three children - no man will want you!"  The last thing I wanted was another man!

Here I was - 30 years old, three babies three years of age and under.  I really had no way to make a steady living.  Due to his new car habit, I was never taught to drive lest I harm the car!  Back in my old Polish neighborhood, only "liberated" women drove a car!  I did not know how to drive!!!   

Ernie didn't have any idea what was going on in our house.  He and my husband were best buddies.  With some sculptures which had not sold at the Arts & Crafts Fair, he planned a weekend trip to El Paso to consign that work to Cita Platt's 222 Gallery and invited my husband to go along.  The respite from the tension was a gift - I could have some peace and quiet to think things through.  I didn't have a clue, but I knew I needed to "man up" - put my big girl pants on and put a plan in place to take care of my children.  They deserved better!

That Sunday morning, standing in the middle of the living room,  it was obvious nothing in my marriage would ever get better.. It was an act of futility to keep wishing and hoping he would change.  I was the one who needed to change and take responsibility for my little family!   I knew what I needed to do. Going through the house I gathered up all his belongings- every damned tie, all the expensive pipes and the tweedy sport coats with leather patches at the elbows!.  Much of his guns and expensive fishing gear went into a corner in the garage. I packed everything else in suitcases and put them on the front porch.  When he came home, I told him he was no longer welcome in the house. He needed to leave or I would call the police.  Turning pale, he was too stunned to react.  Picking up his suitcases he quietly drove off with Ernie! 

OMG! What a smart ass! What do I do now?  Once he was gone I felt nine years of "not being good enough" leave my body.  If I got a job and painted to supplement my income.....I had no idea of the path ahead - where to start.  I was really scared!  The next day I put some laundry in the washer, made a pot of soup, put blankets down on the floor in the family room - sat my kidlets in the middle of all their toys and I painted! I still had that $1000 dollars and three beautiful babies!!!  How hard could it be?  I always was a dreamer!


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 ag...