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June 2024

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Photo by Michael Wilson "Red Cloth" descanso on Roger Rael's memorial site exiting Questa.

The History of New Mexico’s Roadside Crosses: a Presentation

Descansos, or roadside crosses, are found everywhere in the United States and the world, but are ubiquitous in New Mexico. Unlike in adjoining states, our memorials are protected by NM DOT, recognizing their importance to the culture of the state.On Saturday, November 4, at 2 pm in the Kit Carson Coop boardroom in Taos, Pete Warzel will talk about the history of descansos and his engagement with them over the last 15 years. It will be a personal exploration that begins visually, seeing the descansos as folk art, and then thinking through the deeper meaning for the families and friends who lovingly place them at the side of the road, as well as for the drivers who pass them and experience the stunning constructions and flash of color that denotes a memory.

The talk will be accompanied by photographs of rural road and urban descansos. Mr. Warzel will discuss a short bibliography of books and online sites with that address the haunting beauty of the memorials, searching the layers of meaning and intent, and questioning the intrusion of photographing the personal in a public space. The talk will include photographs of several of the descansos that line the roadways of Taos County.

Pete Warzel came west to Denver from Buffalo, New York in 1979 and discovered New Mexico during that move.

Pete Warzel

Pete has been the executive director of the Historic Santa Fe Foundation since 2014 as well as a founding director of Nuevo Mexico Profundo. Both organizations are dedicated to the history and cultures of New Mexico and to the preservation of architecture and cultural history during rapidly changing times. He has lived in Denver, Ranchos de Taos, Talpa, and Santa Fe.

Warzel spent a business career in media and entertainment working with large companies in cable television and movie theaters in executive positions, several start-up companies (one in Central Europe) and as a cinema consultant for the Santa Fe Railyard Community Corporation. He is a former chairman of the National Association of Theatre Owners. He has published poetry, short fiction, essays, interviews, and book reviews in newspapers, national and international literary journals, regional and national magazines, including New Mexico Magazine, and was the books editor for Montana Quarterly Magazine.

He will retire from HSFF on December 31 this year to pursue more of the writing and photography that has been a source of learning and the basis for his talk with the Taos County Historical Society. He maintains homes in Denver and Santa Fe and now will explore everywhere in between.

For more info on this program, call Michael Wilson at (612) 743-6546. Please join the Taos County Historical Society! Email Donovan Lieurance at tchsmembership750@gmail.com