Now missing, E. Mervyn Taylor’s final mural was created for Cable Price Downer House, Wellington, in 1964. Taylor may have never seen the completed mural, as he passed away suddenly in June before the opening of the building in July of 1964. Aesthetically, it seems to sit at the very cusp of what might have been a new era in Taylor’s oeuvre. Constructivist and pop art influences are apparent, possibly inspired by Taylor’s visits to both New York and Moscow in 1958. In a curious bookend to his public art practice, Taylor ended up working with the same architect for both his first and final murals: Bruce Orchiston, who had also commissioned Taylor to create the windows for the Ōtaki War Memorial Hall in 1955.
The final mural design was made in ceramic tiles by Taylor’s close friend Roy Cowan in the home kiln at his and Juliet Peter’s house in Ngaio, where many an architectural tile had been produced (‘tons of tiles’ remarked Cowan in an Evening Post article). It had become evident during the Masterton Hall of Memories work that the artist needed to retain control over the final product, and, with Cowan and the kiln only a few miles from Karori, Taylor would thus be able to check progress and colour consistency quickly.
It is likely the mural disappeared during a refit of the building in the mid-1980s. It may have been destroyed, or perhaps still exists somewhere—dismantled and packed in cardboard boxes in a storage area, or even on a wall in a Hong Kong office, where some members of Downer (after being asset-stripped by Brierley Investments) operated from in the early 1990s. What remains is a tragic loss.
- Text adapted from Gregory J. Smith’s essay “A Renaissance Interrupted” in Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).
As of 2018, Cable Price Downer House was known as BERL House.