By Carol A. Clark
New Mexico House District 43 Rep. Jim Hall is sending the letter below to all members of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation today voicing his opposition to the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s apparent attempt to block artwork depicting crosses slated to adorn two new bridges on N.M. 4 in Jemez Springs.
Hall expressed dismay that NMDOT would take such action, calling it “incredible.”
Jemez Springs Mayor Edmond Temple told the Los Alamos Daily Post last night that since he has notified various state officials, including Hall, and the story came out yesterday in the media, NMDOT is now saying that it is the maintenance of the artwork and not the crosses in that artwork that it opposes.
Temple said NMDOT has known about the artwork for nearly two years and has never mentioned a “maintenance” issue.
NMDOT’s Bill Hutchinson informed Temple of NMDOT’s opposition to the “crosses” but nothing was said about the “maintenance” issue until late yesterday afternoon, Temple said.
“Does the right hand not know what the left hand is doing over there?” Temple said last night.
Letter to New Mexico Congressional Delegation by Rep. Jim Hall:
I am concerned by an apparent attempt by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) officials to alter juried artwork by a local Jemez Springs artist based on a misguided belief that some portion of the artwork represents a “religious message.”
According to a message received by Edmond Temple, Mayor of Jemez Springs, he has been ordered to remove crosses from panels that are intended to be placed on two new bridges in the village.
According to Mayor Temple, the juried art contest resulted in eight 28-inch by 14-foot panels that will be placed on two new bridges about to be built in Jemez Springs.
The panels show historical cultural content in bas relief. I have not seen the panels, but am told that they include crosses on some buildings that reflect the history of the Jemez Springs area (e.g., the representation of the ruined mission at the New Mexico state park–100 feet away.)
The Mayor’s email then states he was informed by State Department of Transportation (NMDOT) officials that the FHWA said the crosses had to be removed from the artwork before the panels could be placed on the bridges.
A later email from a NMDOT official states “You’ll find no disagreement from me on your position. I have tried in vain to argue much the same, although with less eloquence. FHWA wants to avoid controversy and feels that we are inviting it in this instance.”
If this is true, I find it outrageous. To anyone familiar with the history of Northern New Mexico, this artwork cannot be construed as an attempt to foist a religious message on the public.
Rather it recognizes the historic and cultural role of Catholic missions and churches in Northern New Mexico.
These institutions were, and often still are, a central part of Northern New Mexico communities and traditions.
Bureaucrats in the FHWA need to be informed of this distinction and be made aware of the insult this decision represents to all who value the history and traditions of Northern New Mexico, whatever one’s religious affiliation.
Please make every effort to research this reported decision, and, if true, reverse it as soon as possible.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
James (Jim) W. Hall
District 43 State Representative
Los Alamos, Sandoval, and Santa Fe