By Billy Huntsman
In Coronado Mall in Albuquerque every year around Christmas, a humongous synthetic tree is set up in the second floor. Around this tree are strewn blankets of cotton sprinkled with silver dust. And on the fronds of this tree are hung rectangular cards with the writing of children on them, listing their names, ages, and what they want for Christmas.
Holiday shoppers, in the inevitable altruistic spirit the season brings with it, can remove these cards from the tree and return later with the presents listed on them. They leave these gifts, some wrapped in Yuletide packaging, others left in the bags from the stores at which they were bought, upon the cotton blankets surrounding the tree and then vanish. The presents are then delivered to the children who filled out cards for the tree, who must surely think these gifts are from the much-storied Ol’ Saint Nick their parents insist exists.
For those whose childhoods entailed such traditions as visiting a giving tree in support of a toy drive, the sight of little white cards hanging off the limbs of one of the trees at the west entrance of Corbett Center Student Union must have certainly stirred up potent sugar cookie-scented memories.
Upon examining these cards and finding not the ages and names and Christmas yearnings of small children, but such writings as “pipe tobacco,” “hardworking,” and “pine trees” might seem anticlimactic.
That is, until you find out what these cards mean.
LeeAnn Meadows is a self-described “dabbler.” Her husband, Glenn Schweiger, teaches art at Doña Ana Community College. As a result, Meadows has been taking classes at NMSU “off and on” for the last 10 years.
Currently, Glenn is in China studying ceramics, and won’t be back until December.
At around the same time as he left, Meadows says, she was given an assignment in her Intermediate Digital Photography class.
“We were asked to create an art event,” she says.
The event had to be part of a network to which the artist is connected, Meadows says, such as school.
“I was just missing (Glenn) terribly,” Meadows says.
As she continued to miss her husband and to think about her assignment, she thought about how relatable an emotion longing is.
“Everybody has missed somebody,” she says, whether that person be in the military, a boyfriend/girlfriend living across town, in a different city, or if it’s someone who has died.
Meadows decided to establish her event in an area with “a lot of foot traffic.” Corbett was the obvious choice.
“I set up a table and I put two signs,” she says. “‘Who do you love?’ and ‘Who do you miss?’”
To her surprise, in the three hours she spent tabling on Thursday, September 23, and two hours on Friday, September 24, about 40 people approached her, inquiring as to what she was there for.
“One gal came up, she goes, ‘I figured out you weren’t a sorority and you weren’t trying to sell me something, so I was interested,’” Meadows recalls.
Meadows instructed each person who approached her to write at least three words on a piece of paper. She gave brief writing prompts for each person to respond to. The prompts were: 1) What is a smell that reminds you of the person you miss? 2) What is a quality you admire in that person? 3) What is your relation to that person?
“One fellow wrote, ‘Cheetos,’ ‘Hyperactive,’ ‘Aiden,’ and that was his younger brother,” Meadows says.
For Glenn, Meadows wrote ‘Coffee,’ ‘Generous,’ ‘Glenn.’
Meadows says she specifically instructed respondents to think of smells because of how “primal” that sense is.
After each person filled out his or her card, Meadows asked if she could take a photo of the person to go along with the card. Some agreed, while others simply wanted to hang their cards on the tree.
“When I took their photograph, I tried to remember what was on the card—Grandma Duncan or Michael—and I’d say, ‘Think about Michael,’” Meadows says. “And so their faces would change while I took usually three or four photographs of each person.”
Meadows paired the photos of the respondents together with the cards they filled out, and these diptychs are currently on display in the second floor of D.W. Williams Hall above the University Art Gallery.
Meadows says many of the participants thought of people in their lives who had died, and were thankful to reminisce. Meadows says the project gave her a profound sense of connection with those who participated.
“I think when you feel that you’re not alone, it makes you feel better, no matter what your situation is,” she says.
Meadows is currently working on another photography project, wherein she hopes to show changes in the weather, seasons, agricultural crops, shadows, and light by capturing images of Picacho Peak a half-hour after sunrise everyday.
She and Glenn plan to meet up in Hawaii, where they will spend Christmas.