Contextualism in the Desert
By Christopher Mekus
The Southwestern United States is usually defined as the four state area of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Arizona. After Mexico was conquered by the Spanish in the early mid-1500s, their influence spread into Arizona. Permanent colonies began to develop and the Church began building missions near Indian villages to convert them to Christianity. In Arizona, the Jesuits built their first mission in the late 1600s. As part of the Church, paintings and sculptures of Christian themes were an integral part of communicating with the American Indians. Since language was a barrier, it was more effective to tell them about Christ through visual images.
To reflect this cultural heritage, the design of the garden mausoleum and columbarium complex at Holy Redeemer Cemetery, in Phoenix, AZ, utilizes visual images to convey the elements of the Church and Christianity. When Mekus Tanager was asked to design the 534 crypt and 2,600 niche garden complex, the architecture of the southwest played a key role as a unifying force in the development of this new cemetery.