Published: 3:03 pm, Sun. Oct. 21st, 2018Updated: 3:01 pm
The aluminum step-van parked curbside on the south edge of Central Park is already covered in small, black-and-white portraits, but there’s space for more along its hood.
Jerry Wellman stands alongside a fold-out table, trimming more photographs to size before applying them to the vehicle with wheat paste. Each smiling face is hovering over an item held in their hands – a piece of jewelry, a book, a child.
“This is the fourth time we’ve done this,” Wellman says as he applies a photo of Artesia Public Library supervisor Erin Loveland to the van. “We did it in 2012 in Santa Fe, 2014 in Albuquerque, and 2016 on the Navajo Nation.
“Now, this is our foray into southeastern New Mexico.”
Inside the van, which has been retrofitted with a photo studio, Matthew Chase-Daniel is chatting with a young boy about the favorite toy he’s brought along for his portrait. A matter of minutes later, the child’s family is presented with a copy of his photo. Another will soon grace the exterior of the van. Two more will eventually become part of an exhibition to be held at a later date in a museum or art center in the region and a compilation book, respectively.
Artists Wellman and Chase-Daniel comprise Axle Contemporary, the name bestowed upon their “art gallery on wheels.”
Wellman’s works have been exhibited in galleries from Brooklyn to Orange County, and he’s served as an instructor at the Pasadena College of Art and Design and New Mexico State University, as well as curator of the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art.
Chase-Daniel, a Cambridge, Mass., native resided in New York City in the 1960s and spent time in Paris studying cultural anthropology, photography and ethnographic film production.
The two now reside in Santa Fe when they’re not rolling down Southeast New Mexico’s dusty highways. They began their current project – E Pluribus Unum – in Roswell before heading to Hobbs, Lovington, Alamogordo, Carrizozo, Tularosa, Mescalero, Ruidoso, Carlsbad and Artesia. They’ll visit Clovis and Portales Sunday and Monday before returning home, their van laden with what Wellman likes to think of as moments.
“This is very much about time,” he says. “The whole project is called E Pluribus Unum, which was the original motto of the United States in the 1700s. ‘From Many, One,’ and that’s just as valid today as it was then.
“So it’s a little bit about being a time capsule and a little bit about ‘What does From Many, One mean?’”
Illustrating the point, a closer look at the van reveals some individuals holding not a treasured memento but a beverage or their car keys. That didn’t, however, render the item meaningless. It’s just what they had on them at the time they made the spontaneous decision to step into the van.
“It’s not a portrait like a wedding portrait, where the person is wearing a dress for the occasion,” Wellman says. “This is today.”
Local resident Franki Ingram brought her four children to Axle Contemporary’s first Artesia stop Friday at the library. Two came prepared, with a cherished toy elephant and a Labyrinth pillow featuring David Bowie. The other two opted to go the spontaneous route.
All four portraits provided both her and the photographers with equally precious moments.
“This is such a cool project,” Ingram says. “We loved looking at all the photographs of people with their special objects.
“My youngest two children took items that were very sentimental to them, while my teenagers chose random items. Each photo still managed to capture their individual personalities. It was a great experience.”