DONNA MONROE RESUME'
This is a compilation of my personal interviews with Donna Monroe, research, and my own experiences living in a number of locations throughout New Mexico.
-Susan A. Christie, Curator
Donna Monroe 40 Years of Innovative Wit
Donna Monroe lives in the in the quaint desert town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. She has been here since 2002.
Monroe was born in Mason City, Washington State, now nonexistent, the location of the Twelve Bands composing the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation: Chelan, Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce, Colville, Eniat, Lakes, Methow, Moses-Columbia, Nespelem, Okanogan, Palus, San Poil, Wenatchi.
After a move to Vancouver, Washington State, Monroe’s father operated a tugboat and her Lebanese mother was a “homemaker and a wonderful cook.” “She and my Grandmother taught me embroidery, sewing, and knitting beginning when I was very young.” Growing up on the banks of the Columbia River left a profound impression on Mornoe as she and her siblings would “run free out of doors all day till mom rang the cow bell for dinner.”
Santa Cruz, California
After graduation, Monroe attended Cabrillo College, Santa Cruz. California receiving a two year Associates of Art Degree in Horticulture.
She subsequently received a BA, 1983, and MA,1984, in photography from the University of California (UC Santa Cruz), Santa Cruz. Donna “liked painting, but became more intrigued with photography.”
Early photographs to be shown in the Exhibition include people, plants, family garments with a focus on the contrast between light and shadow.
Monroe often used her daughter in her photographs. (“Girl on a Ladder with Calla Lilies”)
While working and raising a family Monroe continued to study and experiment.
Note from the Curator
As her Curator and Interviewer, I have been charmed by the stories she has told me over the past year and a half. I met Donna when we moved to Truth or Consequences in 2006. We have worked together on several projects including the 2014 Fiber Art Exhibition - 36 Fiber Artists, 14 NM Communities, NY, MN, CA. at RioBravoFineArt® Gallery.
I am the Editor/Publisher of the New Mexico Fiber Arts Directory. In mid-2019 I visited her studio to take photographs of her work for the Directory. She has a small building next to her home which she transformed into a small gallery space. Seeing her work in this simple setting was striking. We sat and talked and I said she needed a retrospective and that I would volunteer to be the curator. During her career, the prospect of the work and effort involved in “marketing”, “exhibiting”, “dealing with galleries”, was just too much. Monroe worked, did her artwork, lived her life and avoided what many of us spent years doing. Much of the work in this exhibition has not been seen publically.
Now let’s explore some of her stories!
Monroe was working in the printmaking studio at UC Santa Cruz in 1989. She had been exploring this medium after graduating. “I was in the printmaking studio when the earthquake hit. Litho Plates came off the shelves, everything shook, the light fixtures shook, it came in waves.”
Note from the Curator
This was the San Francisco earthquake of 1989. On October 17th,1989, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay area, killing 67 people and causing more than $5 billion in damages.
The quake was centered near Loma Prieta Peak (approximately 60 miles south of San Francisco in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Included in the exhibition are four monoprints Monroe produced as she revisited the experience of the earthquake. (“Loma Prieta #1, 1989” - Image #3 - "Loma Prieta #2, 1989”)
A good friend of Monroe’s from California moved to Santa Fe. Monroe made her first trip to Santa Fe during 1984-85 to visit. New Mexico made a great impression on Monroe.
After Monroe’s youngest daughter graduated from High School in Santa Cruz, Monroe packed up her car and left for Santa Fe. Her good friend helped her find work and a place to live.
Note from the Curator
I have been in New Mexico for over 35 years and the first place Donna landed was extraordinarily fortunate. As I have recounted her stories with her over the exhibit preparation, the spirits of good fortune seems to have often been her companion.
Monroe went to work for Mrs. Paloheimo on Acequia Madre (The Mother Ditch) just off Canyon Road in
Note from the Curator
(I lived in a northern NM village for several years)
In New Mexico “ditches” or “Acequias” are important water transport in this dry desert with its mountainous topography. Water runs downhill. Mountain runoff from the slopes forms streams, then small waterways, then rivers, which are the tributaries of the Rio Grande (Big River) the main source of irrigation and city use from Colorado to Mexico. Small villages parse river water into the Acequias which wind thru the villages along the main river. Farmers along each “ditch” have a schedule set by the Mayordomo during which they redirect the water to their crops. (Read Stanley Crawford’s Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico, Stanley writes in the winter and grows organic food in the summer in the small village of Dixon along the Embudo River.)
Mrs. Paloheimo lived in a lovely old adobe on Acequia Madre. The women in this family had come out early and played a major part in Santa Fe’s history. She was one of the founders of the Santa Fe Spanish Market and the historic El Rancho de las Golondrinas (The Ranch of the Swallows). The property was on two acres of Acaquia Madre. Monroe spent 4 years cooking for Mrs. Paloheimo. Monroe said that the “impact of working and living there came from life among the wealth of early Southwest pottery, art and artifacts.” as Mrs. Paloheimo had an extensive art collection.
Note from the Curator
(I lived in northern New Mexico for many years beginning in the mid 1980s)
New Mexico attracted bright, educated wealthy women from the east. Millicent Rogers, Mable Dodge who married Tony Luhan a member of the Taos Pueblo, and Georgia O’Keeffe to mention a few.
Following a return to Santa Cruz, CA, then a winter in Tucson, AZ, Monroe followed in the footsteps of her good friend from California and moved to Truth or Consequences in 2002. She fell in love with a home near the Rio Grande, which she was able to purchase from another friend.
Monroe’s home is a rambling building with plenty of room for living and her studio. The outdoors is livable most of the year and there are many nooks for sitting and gardens. Colorful walls and woodwork in a medley of warm colors dominate Monroe’s living space, along with collections of artifacts and meditational displays.
Her studio is filled with shelves of fabrics, drawers of embroidery floss organized into colorways, buttons, laces, collected bits and pieces from thrift stores and other browsed locations. Portfolios, folders, and cabinets hold years of her history. Flat tables hold an array of materials, works in progress, scissors, sewing machine, threads, needles and more. On the walls are works in some stage of development. She said that often pieces went up and down for some time as they were slowly worked on and inspiration struck with a found piece to be included.
An early influence for Monroe was Kaffe Fassett, London, who has inspired people across the works with his colorful work in fabric, knitting, needlepoint, patchwork, painting and mosaic.
Monroe has a great sense of humor. One afternoon, as we were photographing “Bygones,”
I said “I bet you just chuckle your way thru all of this.” She chuckled and said “yes!”
Here is a direct quote from the Artist
I am a fiber and mixed media artist living in a quirky town called Truth or Consequences in the high Chihuauan desert of southern New Mexico. Hot mineral springs, the Rio Grande river and wide open spaces drew me here. What I discovered and have enjoyed for many years now is a fabulous community of fellow artists, spiritual seekers and an atmosphere which allows for and encourages undistracted creativity.
I work in an eclectic variety of categories, primarily but not exclusively fabric hangings, totem figures, assemblages, collages and altered books. Nearly 100% of my work is created using found materials. My hunting skills have been honed to a fine art while pawing through second-hand clothing, fabrics, beads, yarns, rusted metal, and fanciful objects found at local thrift stores, yard sales and on many rambles on desert trails. This kind of reuse and upcycling gives me fits of pleasure and excitement.