Ceramic tile mural, Cable Price Downer House, Wellington, photograph: John J. Gray, 1964. Courtesy Orchiston Architects Ltd.

E. Mervyn Taylor, Cable Price Downer House, 1964

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Industry
Medium: Ceramic tiles
Dimensions: Approx. H3005 x W3005m
Date: 1964
Original location: Cable Price Downer House, 108 The Terrace (also referred to as 106-110), Wellington. CPD House is now known as BERL House.
Architect: Orchiston, Power & Associates
Current location: Unknown
Heritage status: No known protection

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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).

E. Mervyn Taylor: National Mutual Life Assurance building, Untitled

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Untitled
Medium: Painting directly on wall
Dimensions: Approx. H2140mm x W7315mm
Date: 1963
Original location: Ground floor reception, National Mutual Life Assurance building, 153 Featherston St, Wellington
Architect: Gray Young, Morton, Calder & Fowler
Current location: Unknown, presumed destroyed
Heritage status: No known protection


Mervyn Taylor’s mural for the interior of the National Mutual Life Assurance building in Wellington, now presumed destroyed, was commissioned in 1963 by architectural firm Gray Young, Morton, Calder & Fowler. The mural reads as a collage: images of workers, all men, most likely Pākehā but possibly also Polynesian, performing a range of white- and blue-collar tasks in a smorgasbord of crisply illustrated environments — urban, rural, suburban and a very tidy ‘untamed’ wilderness. At the centre a woman looks down at a baby in her arms while a man looks up at her, holding a piece of paper in his hand—an insurance salesman, here either to make good on the woman’s dead husband’s policy, or to reassure her (but really to reassure her husband, whose earnings will pay for the policy) that should anything happen to said husband while he is busily keeping the country ticking over, there will be some compensation. Some life insurance.

Taylor’s mural was behind the reception desk in the downstairs lobby of the building, halfway down Featherston Street, in the CBD. I say the building ‘was’ there, but that’s not entirely accurate—it’s still there, sort of, its form mutated, its purpose significantly revised. In the 1980s, National Mutual moved to another building. In 2000 the Accor hotel group opened one of its Ibis hotels in the building. Renovation plans for the hotel indicate that the mural’s wall was destroyed, although the artwork may have already been painted over or covered up in some way before this.

Text adapted from Sarah Jane Parton’s essay “Assurance” in Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).

 

 

E. Mervyn Taylor: Soil Bureau, First Kumera Planting

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: First Kumera Planting / Kia Kitea Te Waewae Tangata
Medium: Painting directly on concrete wall, using a PVA matt latex paint from Resene
Dimensions: H1850mm x W2750mm
Date: 1962
Original location: Entrance foyer, New Zealand Soil Bureau, 182 Eastern Hutt Rd, Taita, Lower Hutt
Architect: F. G. F. Shepard, Government Architect
Current location: In its original location, hidden under layers of paint
Heritage status: No known protection

In the early 1960s Government Architect F. G. F Sheppard and the Director of the New Zealand Soil Bureau commissioned E. Mervyn Taylor to create a mural for a new modernist building they were developing for the park-like grounds of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research agency in Lower Hutt.

As his subject, Taylor chose the Māori kō ceremony associated with kūmara planting, and spent many hours familiarising himself with this ritual. The painting depicts a carved stone taumata-atua (stone representation, lit. ‘resting place of the gods’) placed at the head of the plot while a cloaked rangatira (chief, high-ranking individual) performs his early morning ceremony turning the first sod with his kō (wooden implement for digging). Lined up, waiting to carry on preparing the plot, are further diggers with their kō at the ready. Other workers use the timo (wooden grubber) to further break up the soil.

As Bryan James writes: ‘Ceremonies associated with [kūmara planting] were still being performed by Maori, and Taylor spent many hours familiarising himself with tribal life and ritual. […] Nothing like these murals, where Maori featured so prominently and were given equal status with European New Zealanders, was being created in New Zealand at this time; nor had they previously been sought for large public buildings. As a contemporary remarked, Taylor could if he had wished have chosen to depict a Pakeha farmer driving a Massey Ferguson tractor; such an image would have been far more widely accepted by Pākehā as typically New Zealand. […] His knowledge, already extensive, of Maori art and tradition continued to expand and he found his reputation and standing growing in both Maori and non-Maori communities.’

In its contemporary setting, Taylor’s intent for this mural was to connect two worlds: that of the Maori horticulturist, who knew the soil resource intimately, and that of the soil scientist, whose task was to extend learning and knowledge of the soil resource for the benefit of the people.

With the restructuring of Government departments in the early 1990s the Soil Bureau was rolled into a Crown Entity. The building was tenanted by a new group and at some stage the mural was painted over. This was confirmed when conservators from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa examined and tested paint samples from the wall in 2016. While removing the paint to uncover the mural was not possible at this point in time, technological advances may enable it to be uncovered in the future.

Pictorial Parade No. 128: Hutt Science – Patron of the arts, features footage of E. Mervyn Taylor at work on a mural (National Film Unit footage):

In April 2016 the E. Mervyn Taylor Mural Search & Recovery Project team visited the former site of the Taita Soil Bureau with paint conservators Linda Waters and Tijana Cvetkovic from Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand.

The conservators used infra-red technology to scan the wall on which Taylor’s mural was painted, hoping to find traces of the work. A paint sample was also taken, and later analysis has revealed promising signs that the mural is still there, hidden under layers of whitewash.

Callum Davies and Max Schleser made a short video of the visit. Callum is a former student, and Max a former Senior Lecturer, at Massey’s Te Rewa O Puanga – the School of Music and Creative Media Production. View the video below:

The team revisited the site in October 2016, and Lynn Freeman of Radio New Zealand National. The building is now home to The Learning Connexion Art School and TLC had kindly moved some large display cabinets to allow us to access the full wall where the mural was once visible.

Lynn Freeman recorded the experience: listen to it here.

Linda Waters has also written two blog posts giving detail around some of the techniques used in hunting for the mural. The second post explains that the mural is unlikely to be recoverable with present-day paint removal technologies:

E. Mervyn Taylor: Wairoa Centennial Library, Untitled

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Untitled
Medium: Painted wall partition
Dimensions: H3500mm x W3160mm
Date: 1961
Original location: Centennial Library, 212 Marine Parade, Wairoa, Hawkes Bay
Architect: Porter & Martin (A.A.)
Current location: Found. Currently at an undisclosed location.
Heritage status: No known protection


The Wairoa Centennial Library was opened in July 1961. Photographs of the opening convey the mid-century optimism of a town at its peak and detail the building’s bright modern lines. Taylor’s mural, adorning a two-storey central wall, is the centrepiece. Ladies in hats and furs bely a provincial conservatism that was confirmed by Taylor’s son, who remembered being reprimanded by a local policeman for working on a Sunday while helping his father complete the mural.

E. Mervyn Taylor’s Wairoa library mural does not function at all as a picture of the town (missing, after all, is Wairoa’s eponymous river), but rather presents a stylised textural quilt of the journey inland toward the bush. Notes written on Taylor’s initial designs for the library mural confirm this interpretation of the mural as a journey both inland and toward the past: ‘Red Heads,1 Early Maori, Whalers,2 cattle and sheep, country mostly hilly, heavy bush, big trees, Moa, cabbage tree, flax, travel on horseback, early fruit centre, wattle & daub huts, wheat, timber.’ The layering is both spatial and temporal.

There is an ancient, primordial quality to that inner landscape that exerts a powerful attraction. The very fact that something older and wilder persists in this place, despite the overwhelming economic pressures of modern agriculture on the New Zealand landscape, is a direct result of local Māori leaders’ concerted resistance to land cessions and confiscations in the 1860s and 1870s. Taylor seems to gesture at this tension in his mural, which was commissioned, along with the building that housed it, to mark the centennial of the establishment of Wairoa township, at the height of colonial confiscations and escalating conflict.

The mural depicts two family groupings facing off: a Māori rangatira is armed only with a taiaha, while four Pākehā men bear two rifles, a whaling spear and an axe. In reality, the local conflict between Māori and Pākehā was far less asymmetrical than this image implies, with Māori embracing all the legal and technological tools of their time to wage a highly innovative and effective guerrilla campaign against the colonial forces. Almost 150 years ago the final chapter of New Zealand’s land wars played out largely in the Ruakituri Valley, inland from Wairoa, against the background of Te Urewera.
The events are more complex and polarising than can be done justice here.

Between 2001 and 2002, Taylor’s Wairoa mural disappeared, quietly and without fuss. How could an artwork that was two storeys high and built into the wall of a public library vanish without trace? During a 2001 renovation it was noted that the steep, narrow stairs that provided access to the library’s upper mezzanine were not up to current building code. Their replacement required the removal of the wall on which Taylor’s mural was painted. The panels were removed and put into storage at the old fire station in the hope that a replacement site in Wairoa would eventually be found.
Shortly thereafter, a woman claiming to be a family member came into the library looking for the mural and expressed her dismay at finding that it was no longer there. If the mural was no longer in use by the library, she asserted, it should be returned to the family. With no foreseeable future site for the mural, it appears that council staff honoured her request, either sending the mural to an address she provided or allowing her to take the work.

Fifteen years later it has been discovered that Taylor’s family know nothing of this incident. Those who might have been involved with returning the work to the ‘family’ have since passed away, and no records of the circumstances of its return have been found. In late 2016 a reward of $5000 was offered for information leading to the mural’s rediscovery and one year later, in late 2017, it turned up. The people who have it wish to remain anonymous — but it is found, and it is safe. Its story, however, resonates with a theme that has emerged across the journey of this project: that New Zealand’s historic public art is in need of serious attention.

Text adapted from Joyce Campbell’s essay “Layers Upon Layers” in Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).

 

E. Mervyn Taylor: Broadcasting House, Time and Space

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Time and Space
Medium: Carved kauri panel
Dimensions: H800mm x W1850mm
Date: 1963
Original location: Entrance foyer, Broadcasting House, 34 Bowen Street, Wellington
Architect: Gordon Wilson, Ministry of Works (Supervising Government Architect)
Current location: RNZ boardroom, Radio New Zealand House, 155 The Terrace, Wellington
Heritage status: No known protection


E. Mervyn Taylor’s “Time and Space” (1963) was originally commissioned for Broadcasting House, Wellington. Led by Government Architect Gordon Wilson, the new state-of-the-art building was, at the time, New Zealand’s most technologically advanced building. Wilson ‘argued for the employment of established artists for projects in new buildings, including schools’ and, walking the talk, many of his projects included commissioned artworks.

Through low relief carvings of the sun and moon surrounded by zodiac signs, Taylor imagined radio waves penetrating the ‘heavens’, alluding to some of his previous engravings particularly those concerning Māori myths and legends. Kauri was selected due to its warm sheen and colour, contrasting with the rimu timber paneling in the building’s foyer, and Taylor spent a total of 700 hours completing the work.

This significant piece was nearly lost after a National-led government made plans to demolish Broadcasting House and replace it with a new ministerial office building. A 196,000-signature petition and public pressure resulted in plans for the ‘Parliamentary Palace’ being shelved, but a new plan surfaced to move the Beehive building and complete the original Parliament Buildings. Broadcasting House was vacated in July 1997 and demolition commenced in mid-September. Two weeks later a mysterious fire broke out in the building. After an eight-hour battle by sixty firefighters this important part of New Zealand’s modern architectural and technological history was destroyed.

Thankfully Taylor’s work was saved due to the foresight of Sharon Crosbie, then Chief Executive of Radio New Zealand. Who ensured Time and Space was retrieved, conserved, and professionally hung in the boardroom of Radio New Zealand House, 155 The Terrace, where it now hangs more than twenty years later.

Text adapted from Ken Davis and Rose Evans’ essay “On The Politics of Time and Space” in Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).

E. Mervyn Taylor: COMPAC terminal, Te Ika-a-Maui

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Te Ika-a-Maui
Medium: Ceramic tiles
Dimensions: H2625mm x W3430mm
Date: 1962
Original location: Commonwealth Pacific Cable Terminal, 1 Akoranga Drive, Northcote, Auckland
Architect: F. G. F. Sheppard, Government Architect
Current location: Research Library, Level One, Takapuna Library, 9 The Strand, Takapuna, Auckland. Property of Spark NZ
Heritage status: On loan to Auckland Council, registered as a “considered item”


In 1961, E. Mervyn Taylor was commissioned by the New Zealand Post Office to develop a mural for the new Commonwealth Pacific Cable terminal in Northcote, Auckland. The terminal was to house the major new COMPAC telephone cable system that provided New Zealand with a much-needed reliable international telephone connectivity.

Taylor responded to the idea of the cable with a metaphor distinct to Aotearoa: the traditional Māori creation story of the demi-god Māui fishing up the North Island, also known as Te Ika-a-Māui (the fish of Māui). A press release about the mural at the time stated, “there was an analogy, [Taylor] thought, between the ‘fishing up’ of New Zealand by Maui and its modern counterpart where the new cable again draws New Zealand out of the Pacific into the telephone systems of the world.”[1]

Created in ceramic tiles, visitors to the terminal could experience Māui and his brothers in close quarters as the mural occupied a full wall within a relatively small foyer area. Over time tiles began falling off the wall and the mural was removed and stored in cardboard boxes in an adjacent office.

In 2014 Taylor’s mural was rediscovered in boxes by artist Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, during a commission for public art platform Letting Space with marketing agency JWT. The resulting project, Te Ika-a-Akoranga, included the restoration, digitisation, and photographic reconstruction of the mural in JWT’s Queen Street Auckland offices.

Following this, the Spark Foundation arranged further restoration work on the mural. Replica tiles were created to fill the gaps left by sixteen missing tiles, and the fully-restored work was exhibited at City Gallery Wellington in 2018 as part of Holloway-Smith’s project The Southern Cross Cable: A Tour.

Five years after its initial rediscovery it resumed its intended status as a public artwork when it was installed in Takapuna Library in March 2019. It remains there for the foreseeable future.

[1] “New Zealand Murals,” Daily News, July 9, 1962.

E. Mervyn Taylor: Masterton War Memorial, Lest We Forget

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Lest We Forget
Medium: Ceramic tiles
Dimensions: H1995 x W3685mm
Date: 1963 / 1966
Original location: War Memorial Stadium Hall of Memories, 2 Dixon St, North Masterton 5810
Architect: Daniell & Wevers
Current location: Intact, in its original location
Heritage status: The mural is on the Masterton District Council’s heritage list. Prior to any change to the mural’s status a resource consent would be required. In the case of demolition, the council would require the owner to remove the mural in such a way that it could be reinstated.


Following the end of World War II Masterton resolved to create a series of ‘Living Memorial’ projects including the construction of a large community hall or stadium. Funding was approved in March 1960 and the project’s architects, Daniell & Wevers, recommended a decorative feature on the southern wall of the War Memorial Stadium’s Hall of Memories. E. Mervyn Taylor got the job, proposing a glass mosaic mural made from tiles sourced by Smith & Smith from an Italian factory.

Almost from the start things started to go wrong. Muranite produced the tiles in Venice and shipped them to England, where they were found to be water damaged. One year later the repaired/replaced tiles arrived from Italy and were installed in the Hall of Memories. Taylor, Daniell & Wevers, and a representative from Smith & Smith inspected the mural finding a series of faults: 5 colour variations; 4 variations from the original design; outlines of shapes not clean enough; and joints between tiles haphazard and not tight enough. Taylor himself wrote to the architects requesting that the mural be covered up so the public could not see it.

The NZ agent for Muranite, dismissed the criticism as ‘exaggerated’, but conceded that the toning down of some of the colours, combined with some lines not being as well defined as they should have been, had reduced the desired clean impression. Daniell & Wevers were not prepared to accept a ‘patched up’ mural, saying a complete replacement was the only sensible option. A stand-off ensued. The council’s solicitor became involved. Finally, by March 1964, Smith & Smith, Taylor and the Council had resolved to replace the mosaic with ceramic tiles mural manufactured by Carter & Co. of England. Tragically, Taylor died in June 1964. His wife, Teddy, arranged a revised design for the mural based on Taylor’s existing drawings. The tiles were finally installed in March 1966 just prior to being unveiled on Anzac Day, nearly 21 years after the end of the war they memorialised.

Text adapted from Gareth Winter’s essay “Lest We Forget: The Battle for the Mural” in Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).

E. Mervyn Taylor: New Plymouth War Memorial Hall, Museum & Library, Untitled

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Untitled
Medium: Sand-blasted glass window
Dimensions: H1800mm x W3300mm
Date: 1960
Original location: War Memorial Hall, Museum and Library, 1 Ariki St, New Plymouth
Architect: Taylor & Syme and Associates (with Edgar Collins)
Current location: In its original location, now Puke Ariki
Heritage status: No known protection


In the years immediately following the end of World War II, the New Zealand government offered towns and cities subsidies on locally raised funds to build war memorials. Communities were encouraged to build ‘living memorials’ — facilities such as halls, libraries and regional museums — in contrast to the familiar concrete or marble monuments that were built throughout the country after World War I.

In the early 1950s the town of New Plymouth decided to use this opportunity to build a war memorial hall and library — replacing the existing ones — and add a regional museum. The local firm of Taylor and Syme won the job of designing the building.

Edgar Collins, the architect in charge, wanted a feature wall to be the focus of the actual war memorial, and planned for this to be located where it would be seen by the most people: on the return of the main staircase leading into the hall from the building’s entrance off Ariki Street. Collins allowed space for a mural measuring 3.3 metres wide by 1.8 metres high, surrounded by a dark-green breccia and limestone feature with bronzed lettering above. The location presented a challenge, for the scheme of the mural would have to make sense to the eye from two potentially distorting perspectives as people walked up and down the staircase.

By late 1958, the two-year construction process was sufficiently advanced for Collins to select an artist. He chose E. Mervyn Taylor. Furthermore, he realised Taylor’s technique of rendering the design in sand-blasted plate glass would allow the image to be back-lit as a kind of ‘eternal flame’.

As a memorial feature, Taylor’s brief required a commemoration of those who had left Taranaki for overseas war service in World War II and did not return, but in the context of historical Taranaki the design had to refer to both the physical place and its interracial past. Furthermore, the final approval would not be Collins’s but the city council sub-committee’s. This was likely to be a difficult business, he wrote to Taylor, for each of the councillors would be bound to have their own opinions as to what constituted art and what ought to form part of the design. ‘New Plymouth is, conservatively speaking, quite lacking in open minds but we have piloted a number of ideas in this building which are to locals revolutionary, and elsewhere would not appear so startling,’ wrote Collins. Taylor was sufficiently troubled by the location of the proposed commission, and the possibility of official local opposition to his preliminary sketches, to travel to New Plymouth in 1959 and meet with the architect to view the site. He was able to submit his final design by the end of the year.

The sub-committee approved the design and it was created using the technique of sand-blasted heavy panels of plate glass. Once installed, the mural was back-lit with a salmon-pink light — an effect created by white fluorescent bulbs shining on a coloured recess behind the glass.

Text adapted from Bryan James’ essay “An Eternal Flame to Provincialism” in Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).

E. Mervyn Taylor: Khandallah Presbyterian Church, The Ascension

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: The Ascension of Christ
Medium: Sand-blasted glass window
Dimensions: H4810mm x W3370mm
Date: 1959
Original location: Khandallah Presbyterian Church, 27 Ganges Rd, Khandallah, Wellington
Architect: Haughton, Son & Mair
Current location: Intact, in its original location
Heritage status: Unknown


The sand-blasted mural The Ascension of Christ by E. Mervyn Taylor was the only conventionally religious subject the artist produced on this scale, and the only mural he produced for a church.

During 1958, Taylor was contacted by the minister of Khandallah Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Graeme McKenzie, on behalf of his parishioner Mrs Florence Hayes. Mrs Hayes wanted to donate a window to the new church to be built on Ganges Road as a memorial to her only son Leslie John Hayes, who had died of leukaemia at the age of thirty after suffering for fifteen years. Originally Mrs Hayes wanted a stained-glass window, but Taylor suggested — as the church was a modern one with clean, crisp lines — that a plainer, sand-blasted window would be more appropriate and much less expensive.

Taylor made an astute choice in suggesting the plain sand-blasted glass window. The neutrality of the sand-blasted glass integrated well with the undecorated concrete, brick and wooden components which comprise the fabric of the church building. The design of the new church was influenced by functional modernist architecture in which art was often included.

As with all his murals and wood engravings, Taylor showed his great skill as a designer. In this mural he had the complications of the struts supporting the glass panels as well as the shape of the window itself. These necessary supports would be major intrusions in the creation of the image. Taylor also had to consider the fact that the mural would be viewed from both the inside and the outside of the church. The design of the composition had to function for both front and back viewing of the figure of Christ. It is significant that Taylor planned the design by drawing on a piece of transparent architectural paper which he could view from both sides.

Faithful guardianship of the mural is presently the task of Leslie Hayes’s sister Mrs Patricia Parsons, who is a parishioner of the church. Mrs Parsons was instrumental in ensuring that the mural was suitably repaired when a lower glass panel was broken by a beer bottle in September 2011. Given the fate of other of Taylor’s murals it is very encouraging to have this level of protection for such a significant and important part of New Zealand’s art and architectural history.

Text adapted from Tony Mackle’s essay “The Ascension of Christ” in Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).

E. Mervyn Taylor: Otaki War Memorial Hall, Untitled

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Untitled
Medium: Sand-blasted glass window
Dimensions: H2610mm x W2440mm
Date: 1956
Original location: Ōtaki War Memorial Hall, 69 Main St, Ōtaki
Architect: Bruce E. Orchiston
Current location: Original work was damaged. A replica has been put in its place.
Heritage status: Unknown


E. Mervyn Taylor’s etched glass windows for the Ōtaki War Memorial Hall were initiated in 1955. In his composition, Taylor was promulgating a greater sense of cohesion between the diverse cultures of a small town in a largely agricultural region dedicated mainly to the primary industries. Rangiātea Church is also a well-recognised local image, pertinent to the times: perhaps Taylor included an image of the church in the window as an act of conciliation to the largely bicultural communities’ sensibility. When the Ōtaki War Memorial Hall windows were first revealed to the Ōtaki community, Taylor’s efforts could be interpreted as a celebration of, or a hope for, a unified Ōtaki where brighter, prosperous futures might emerge from the destabilisation of World War II and the reverberating grief for those servicemen and women lost from the coastal town. Due to his commitment to understanding Māori cultural context, Taylor heightened a sense of mutual respect for cultural difference as a means of community cohesion.

On an unassuming Saturday night, 18 November 2006, the glass mural which faced the street and had greeted communities for more than fifty years was reduced to shards in seconds by blows inflicted by two youths with metal baseball bats. The two culprits also smashed the windows of the town’s library, the Ōtaki Primary School (which had to close for Monday classes), and a range of other businesses on Mill Road. Destructive events like that night of broken glass in 2006 are not lost on a compact, peri-urban and coastal community like Ōtaki. Some years earlier, in 1995, regional iwi, hapū and residents alike were left shocked and heartbroken when deliberately lit fires by self-acclaimed activists destroyed the historic Rangiātea Church. When iwi leaders, the church vestry and the community rallied to replace Rangiātea Church, a replica was rebuilt within eight years and rededicated in November 2003. After repeated appeals, the only surviving perpetrator was finally found guilty by association and jailed for his actions in September 2008.

A similar work of community learning and collaboration took place after the 2006 vandalism. Once again the Ōtaki community rallied to restore a local treasure, combining their respective efforts and agreed that the windows would be recreated. The original glass plans and designs were found, and heritage glass restoration experts were employed to recreate the windows, funded by insurance monies with a top-up from the council. Finally, the windows were protectively blessed and rededicated: the revitalised E. Mervyn Taylor mural (produced by Chris Wilson of Artrix Glass) was unveiled at an emotional ceremony of reconciliation, forgiveness and unity on Anzac Day in 2007.

The shattered pieces of Taylor’s original glass mural are now kept as relics within the neighbouring Ōtaki Museum. They are important vestiges of Taylor’s original laminated glass material imported from England, and testament to his signature sand-blasted designs.

A film, “The Otaki War Memorial Hall windows and the art of E. Mervyn Taylor” about this incident and the creation of the new windows was made by Errol Maffey in 2010.

A NZ Academy of Fine Arts 1967 catalogue also mentions “library panels”.

Text adapted from Huhana Smith’s essay “Waiting for Revelations” in Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).