Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Medium: Ceramic tiles
Dimensions: Approx. H3005 x W3005m
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).
Ceramic tile mural, Cable Price Downer House, Wellington, photograph: John J. Gray, 1964. Courtesy Orchiston Architects Ltd.
Taylor, E Mervyn (artist), circa 1964, Wellington , Industry, gouache on paper on card. Image: 381mm (Height) x 381mm (Width) Support: 420mm (Height) x 394mm (Width) . Collection of Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. Registration number: 1998-0033-8
Taylor’s unused design concepts for the Cable Price Downer House mural, gouache on card. Image: Shaun Waugh, 2017. Courtesy Estate of E. Mervyn Taylor.
Taylor’s developmental sketches for the Cable Price Downer House mural. Graphite pencil and ink on architectural film, circa 1964. Image: Shaun Waugh, 2017. Courtesy Estate of E. Mervyn Taylor.
A hole reveals the missing Cable Price Downer House mural in what is now known as BERL House. Image: Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, 2016.