Thursday, January 10, 2019

WORD PAINTINGS #54 - Taos, 1/10/19 - "MORNING WORDS"

Up early.  The sun rose through a bright yellow band of clouds over the mountains towards Pecos.  Joyous!  Worked all day yesterday to prepare the house for some rather serious hours at the easel.  Coming out of the longest period of "creative work block" I can remember in all the years I have been painting.  Starting over.  Have likened this waking up time to a ballerina recovering from a broken toe - muscle memory needs prodding - the first steps are hesitant and slow.

My painting "Two Cows in a Winter Field on Christmas Morning" was completed last spring. Friends Doug, Seamus and I had a wonderful eggs & green chile Christmas breakfast and then took a long drive through the villages north of Taos.  I was hemmed in and couldn't get out of the car; Seamus took the photo of a large herd of cows in a winter field.  For months I stared at the photo and then isolated these two in a rather abstract composition.  Finally I felt a spurt of inspiration and I began to lay in the paint.  When the painting was completed, I knew that I was capable of moving into a new phase of my work.  Mistakenly consigned the work to Gabe at Chimayo Trading.  Two days later I was back at the gallery asking him to give it back to me. He reluctantly took it off the wall and let me have it. Good Gabe!  It is still hanging in my living room and I am loathe to let it go.  In my life and my work, the road ahead is a mystery.  I believe this painting is a "life arrow" - a signpost.

Laying out a new palette of juicy colors this morning.  So many pieces in front of me half finished.  The little studies from my trip to Truchas.  I need to get acquainted with my brushes again - my motor memory - how they feel in my hand.  Once it begins it is like waking up to life again.  For a long time after John died I really didn't want to live.  Every day it felt as though I was just clinging to the edge of a cliff.  What changed?  Healing comes in phases.  It doesn't happen all at once.  The deep grief diminishes - except when it hits when I least expect it.  Yesterday when I was "doing the things in life which must be done" I felt a sense of wholeness.   An old and sorely missed friend.  Order out of chaos - the return of purpose and meaning.

Would love to start out with a large and profound landscape this morning, but like that wounded ballerina, I need to exercise - stretch - take those small baby steps of a brand new beginning.  Setting a goal for myself.  Complete some of those studies and get them to Gabe by the end of February.  One step at a time, one day at a time.  

My friend and helper, Doug Yeager, is coming by on Saturday to photograph two large canvases which I completed last year.  One canvas is 60"x36" - "Autumn Fields at Ranchitos".  I want a photo of me standing beside it.  The painting is a meditation of a place near Middle Road.  Whenever life would get too hectic, I would get in my pick-up truck and climb the hill overlooking this little valley.  Silence, calm - a quiet heart.  Small hypnotic brushstrokes....colors of the earth. Meditation - peace.

The frames  for these paintings have been leaning against the wall of the studio for almost six months, the result of my creative brain freeze.  Will varnish the paintings and Doug will help me frame them next week.  Time to fill up the studio again....perhaps my Art Gods still have some surprises in store for me.  Who knows?  What I do know is that one little canvas will often have inside of it a much larger inspiration.  Progress, not perfection!

And more will be revealed....   

Monday, January 7, 2019


"No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of the night.  We know that every moment is a moment of Grace, every hour an offering" - Jakob Shekaneder

Life without drama is a gift from a chaotic universe.  It doesn't happen every day, but when it does, blessings abound!  This is the beginning of a new year - a time of revaluing, reorganizing - creating order and perhaps some new and healthier habits.  (Smiling broadly as I wrote the words "healthier habits").  Ever since my move from the old house on Santistevan Lane where I accumulated 23 years of "Life", I have been clearing out the old.  Half my household things were either sold or given away.  After my son died living in Tesuque and Santa Fe no longer worked for me.  Taos is my home and I needed to return.  Another purge - pick-up truck loads of paintings and furniture to friends and family.  I became obsessed with simplifying my life.  Back in Taos - a smaller house with good working studio areas.  Am looking around this morning and know that one more clear out will do it - some clothes, dishes - extra pots and pans.  This feels so good!!!  It is only common sense to clear out the clutter - don't leave a mess behind!

Those small studies I mentioned earlier are on the easel right now in various stages of completion.  The first ten will go to Gabe Abrums at Chimayo Trading del Norte in Ranchos de Taos Plaza.  Shortly after arriving back in Taos, Gabe sent an email asking if I would consider him as an agent to sell my work.  Mainly he sells his own beautiful jewelry, native pottery and paintings from old Taos artists like Gene Kloss and Doel Reed.  He has lived in Truchas and his wife, Alicia, is from Chimayo.  It felt like a perfect fit for my paintings!  More than once he has come to my studio looking for one painting and I ended up consigning 15 - leaving my walls bare naked!  Without a doubt this is the best "gallery" connection for me ever!!  They respect my work.  And Gabe has been patient and sensitive enough to understand that sometimes I just need to sit and stare at my big toe.  His sales of my work are consistent.  He pays on time!  I trust him!  Grateful?  You bet!  New paintings for his gallery by the middle of February.

"All who wander are not lost".  I have been a nomad.  It is no secret that I was meant to live in this place for the past 52 years.  Santa Fe, Taos and Truchas have given my life purpose and meaning.  With all the speed bumps on my Road of Life, I can't imagine a better place to have live all this time.  This land has always been a source of healing for me.  Planning another road trip with great photographer and friend, Geraint Smith (www.geraintsmith  Kodak is producing Ektachrome slide film again.  Six rolls were delivered from the Camera Shop in Santa Fe last week.  Tears in my eyes to be able to work with my old camera with the Vivitar Zoom Lens.  Digital is fine, but there is nothing like the rich colors from that old Kodak film!  Working on the paintings from my trip this autumn.  Now I want to take some photos in the snow.  I love the winter landscape with a passion!  Subtle colors - lavenders, grays, red willows - shadows on the snow!  Planning another day trip - can't wait!

Groceries today - part of my weekly routine.  Lift myself out of the "holidays".  Straighten up my work area.  Set up a new palette and dive in.  Have the feeling there are still some surprises around the corner!  One day at a time....

Sunday, January 6, 2019

WORD PAINTINGS #52 - Jan. l, 2019 - Taos, New Mexico

Taos, New Mexico - 1 January 2019 - Snowflakes the size of nickels this morning!  They float silently; I am floating with them.  Thinking of last year at this time - no snow at all! Talk of drought, forest fires....collective panic.  Not this year!!  These little puffs of clouds are landing on what was another seven inches of SNOW!  Amazing Grace!

6 January 2019 - Another snowy Sunday morning - quiet, peaceful - just the friendly neighborhood crows making themselves known.   Trying to convince myself that it is important for me to keep up with this blog and then I block it out for a couple of weeks.  The urge to keep writing returns.  It is a mystery to me....

Yesterday I read a short handwritten note to young women artists by the great abstract painter, Agnes Martin.  I was inspired.  Just now I found this editorial about her on HOW TO BE AN ARTIST.  She talked about living life above the line - finding a level of happiness.  My current word for happiness is "contentment".  Perhaps that is my struggle with these blog posts.  I am recalling some very sad and painful times.  Strangely the sad times fed the art.  Are these writings a way for me to understand how even the painful times led to a greater commitment to my work? 

My beautiful son, John, died on Christmas Eve four years ago. He was 49.  Each holiday season since has been a struggle to keep myself out of that black pit of despair so familiar to any parent who has lost a beloved child.  Perhaps this is where I hit the wall.  I am remembering all the other difficulties, trying to convince myself that I can live through this one, too.  In the holidays since his death I have invited friends over.  I realized that I was trying to prove that tragedy happened, but I was still okay.  It is those desperate, sweaty attempts to still be okay" which end up being my downfall.    It is a distraction and a cover-up.  Finally I knew I had to go it alone and just face my feelings of loss and sadness.  Got my groceries in for the duration, cut off the phone calls and just let myself grieve!  It is indescribable!

It is obvious to me now that this part of my life is the biggest blank canvas I have ever put on my easel.  There is no roadmap.  Will this "thing" - my Art Thing save me one more time?  I don't know.  I am no longer young and not as resilient as I was before.  In all my years of painting last year was my least productive.   My feelings caught up with me.  Truthfully I gave in to the sorrow.  The short trip I had with my friend Geraint recently wakened a little spark.  200 photographs of my favorite places in and around Truchas resulted in about 15 small underpaintings - studies from that trip.  Am I inspired yet?  I don't know. 

The River of Creation - Years ago whenever I felt stuck for ideas or energy, I imagined this fast moving river that flowed under everything.  In those dark waters were all the thoughts, ideas, inspirations that came to my favorite artists - Degas, Cassatt, Van Gogh, Rodin - too many to count; I was comforted to know that their sparks of creation would always be there every time I needed to feel that fire in my belly.  What I know for sure is that it takes that first step to begin again.  Making art is the way I breathe - it is my wholeness.  My word for this year is "Grace" - I have been lifted up through many difficulties - it is time for me to just allow and trust my Art Gods one more time.

Have no idea where this will take me - my intentions are to be clear and honest.  Since this is another place of profound change, perhaps I need to just move forward for a time....and refer to my past experiences more of consciousness seems to be working for now.

A new year - my place of New Beginnings - empty-handed leap into the Great Unknown.....   

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. I was able to buy some toys and clothes for my wild bunch. We had a lovely Christmas.

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


Taos, N.M. 12/12/18 - Just read somewhere that it is incumbent upon women of a certain age to tell their stories.  Wonder why?  After posting the notes from my recent "Sentimental  Journey" starting at Pilar and traveling all the way to the horse ranch on Llano Quemado near Truchas town, I stopped writing for a few weeks.  The time in between was spent editing the photographs I took that afternoon, choosing the ones I wanted to paint, ordering frames and generally gearing up to paint through the next winter months.  Have set up a new online gallery store on eBay; planning to put up the new paintings and my studio inventory of archival prints. All the necessary things an artist does to avoid the elephant in the room - revealing the stories of the next eleven years of my earthly journey.

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......  

WORD PAINTINGS #54 - Taos, 1/10/19 - "MORNING WORDS"

  Up early.  The sun rose through a bright yellow band of clouds over the mountains towards Pecos.  Joyous!  Worked all day yesterday ...