Above: The body of the Axle Contemporary step van features over 900 wheat-pasted portraits. Photograph courtesy of Axle Contemporary.

There were obstacles, not the least of which was the moment when a newly rebuilt engine breathed its last sigh somewhere on the outskirts of Lovington. The vintage aluminum step van known as Axle Contemporary, a mini art space on wheels, had to be towed the rest of the journey on a trailer hooked to the back of a truck. Despite the hiccup, artist collaborators Jerry Wellman and Matthew Chase-Daniel, both of Santa Fe, continued the third iteration of a photography project begun in 2012: E Pluribus Unum, a road trip documenting the faces of New Mexico. This time, they were traveling through the southeastern New Mexico cities of Roswell, Lovington, Alamogordo, Tularosa, Carrizozo, Ruidoso, Carlsbad, Artesia, and Clovis, taking portraits of each town’s residents as they stood with one prized possession or person. There were loved ones, photos of loved ones, an American flag, a favorite book, and more than a few cowboy hats. Afterward, the artists wheat-pasted a copy of each portrait—totaling 950—on the side of Axle Contemporary.

Those portraits have since forged a traveling exhibition, E Pluribus Unum: New Mexico Southeast, on view at the Western Heritage Museum and Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame, in Hobbs, through November 3; and the Roswell Museum and Art Center, November 16 through April 22, 2020.