Some time ago, for reasons that are now fuzzy but probably involved wanting to escape the office on a road trip, I decided to find the exact center of New Mexico.
Reading about my quest for the center of the state prompted Cliff Wilkie, who at the time was a geodetic surveyor for Albuquerque, to launch his own quest to find the exact center of the state’s largest city, Albuquerque.
He found it, and that led me to meet Cliff at the spot and commemorate the occasion by slapping a big, black duct-taped X on the sidewalk.
|If you go WHAT: Ceremony unveiling center-of-the-city decorative manhole covers
WHEN: 2 p.m. today
WHERE: Fourth Street between Central and Gold in Downtown Albuquerque
WHO: Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, artist Yamilette Duarte
The unceremoniousness of the duct-taping was not lost on the city’s Public Art staff, which decided to launch a public art competition to commemorate the 2012 center of the city as well as the 1912 center of the city in a more fitting way as part of the state’s centennial celebration.
All that led me to meet artist Yamilette Duarte in the shade of Coronado Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Duarte, who lives and works in the old parish hall in the small Doña Ana community of San Miguel, answered the call for center-of-the-city art works and she won the competition. Her design, a lovely compass-inspired circle with the letter “A” as a motif and cast in a beautiful iron patina, now marks each of the two spots. They are nearly identical, except that one says “1912” in its cross hairs and the other says “2012.”
They look, on a much larger scale, like old coins or tarnished silver buttons you might uncover in a trunk buried by a Spanish explorer.
If you want to see them, you’ll have to go to Fourth Street between Central and Gold Downtown (the 1912 center) or to the south Interstate 40 frontage road between Third and Fourth streets north of Downtown (the 2012 center) and look down.
Duarte’s art pieces are manhole covers.
Duarte, who is 29 and a graduate of Mesilla Valley Christian School and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., said she hadn’t given much thought to manhole covers when she answered the city’s request for proposals, but she warmed to the idea.
“The manhole is something that you just kind of ignore,” she told me as we stood in the shade of Coronado Park’s towering elms. “I thought it was cool and functional.” Duarte had driven up from San Miguel that morning, and it was the first time she was going to see her finished artwork.
Forged in iron at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, the covers are just like a manhole cover except they are decorative only – they don’t provide access to the sewer system. And they’re set in concrete along the sidewalk, so art and history lovers don’t have to dart into traffic and we all don’t have to feel bad for driving over them.
The pieces will be officially unveiled at a ceremony today at the 1912 center, but Duarte and I took an early look by walking to the 2012 center at the north edge of Coronado Park as frontage road traffic sped by.
When I first heard about the center competition, I imagined a life-sized statue of the Duke of Alburquerque at the 1912 center and a larger-than-life statue of a Lobo wolf at the contemporary center.
So, thank goodness Duarte entered the competition and won.
She told me she normally does tile work and paints murals, but she put her graphic design skills to work to draw together the ideas of geography and a bull’s-eye or center spot within the confines of a circle, the shape dictated by the manhole.
“A geographic circle,” she said. “What is it? It’s a compass.”
Duarte studied old compass designs and managed to incorporate rather elegantly into her compass circle the letter A as a typographical element and a Zia symbol rotated 45 degrees.
Duarte told me she was excited by the idea that the manhole cover is a dot, like you might put on a map, and also on the ground.
“You can stand on it,” she said.
The manhole cover was set in a concrete square (the better to avoid thieves looking for a centennial souvenir) and cloaked in white paper when we found it. Somehow the paper was lifted up and we were able to take a peek. It was beautiful, a detailed iron disk that looked so much like an antique compass, I expected the arrows to move.
It took us a few minutes to snap to the fact that the center of this manhole cover at the 2012 center site read “1912.” The installation crew had mixed up the heavy iron discs when they went to place them in concrete.
I called the city public arts people to let them know about the mistake Wednesday afternoon, and they gamely hurried out and jackhammered up the concrete, switched the manhole covers to their proper locations and poured new concrete beddings so today’s unveiling will come off smoothly.
I apologized to Duarte on behalf of all the residents of Albuquerque for the mix-up, but she took it in stride.
“It’s OK,” she said. “I like mistakes.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or email@example.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal