Guy Ngan: National Bank Gisborne, 1969

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Pacific Voyages (Cook Bicentenary Mural)
Medium: New Zealand timber and bronze, mounted on cork
Dimensions: Approx. 5.6 square metres (60 sq ft). Exact dimensions unknown
Date: 1969
Original location: National Bank Gisborne Branch, 31-35 Gladstone Rd, Tairāwhiti Gisborne
Architect: TBC
Current location: Held by a private collector in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington
Heritage status: TBC

This work was the result of Ngan winning the 1969 National Bank Mural Award: his second win in a row after his successful entry into the 1968 competition which resulted in the work “Habitation” being installed in National Bank’s head offices in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington.

Installed in October 1969 as part of the Cook Bicentenary celebrations, the mural depicts the paths of Cook’s voyages around the Pacific. A timber map sits on a cork background, and a coin-like bronze medallion depicting Cook presides over the scene.

As reported by The Gisborne Herald on 7 October 1969, the judges commented “This artist again reveals his outstanding ability to produce a forceful design tempered with elegance and charm.” 

Guy Ngan: National Bank Head Office, 1968

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Habitation
Medium: Wood and cork wall sculpture
Dimensions: Approx. 6 square metres (65 sq ft). Exact dimensions unknown
Date: 1968 (building opened in 1970)
Original location: National Bank Head Office, 170-186 Featherston St, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, CBD
Architect: TBC
Current location: Ngan noted the work as being “destroyed” in April 2000
Heritage status: n/a

This mural was the result of Ngan winning the 1968 National Bank mural award. He won again in 1969 and 1971.

Guy Ngan: ANZ Queen St Branch, 1964

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Q & V Mural
Medium: Glass mosaic tiles
Dimensions: Approx. 244 square metres (800 sq ft). Exact dimensions unknown.
Date: 1964 (elsewhere dated 1960, but the building opened in October 1964).
Original location: Rear wall, banking chamber, ANZ Bank, corner of Queen & Victoria Sts (203A Queen St), Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland CBD.
Architect: Stephenson & Turner
Current location: Unknown, possibly painted over.
Heritage status: n/a

Ngan’s large mural design for the ANZ Bank Queen St covered a two-story high wall in the public banking chamber. It was also his final public artwork executed in mosaic glass tiles.

Guy Ngan: Dunedin Dental School Lecture Hall, 1957

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Two murals, both ceramic tile and concrete
Dimensions: Approx 800 sq. ft. / 74 m²
Date: 1957
Original location: Lecture Hall exterior, Dunedin Dental School, University of Otago, 35 Frederick St, Dunedin Ōtepoti
Architect: Gordon Wilson, Government Architect, Ministry of Works
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: TBC

Ngan’s murals for the Dunedin Dental School Lecture Hall exterior were completed the same year as the Engineering School Lecture Hall exterior at Canterbury University in nearby Ōtautahi Christchurch.

Two murals were completed: one at each end of the building. Both still exist.

They are said to have been made with recycled broken tiles.

Guy Ngan: Canterbury University Engineering School Lecture Hall, 1957

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Concrete
Dimensions: Approx. 457 m²
Date: 1957
Original location: Lecture Hall exterior, Engineering School, University of Canterbury, Creyke Rd (opposite 48), Christchurch Ōtautahi
Architect: Helmut Einhorn, Ministry of Works Architectural Division
Current location: Demolished in 2011 due to earthquake damage.
Heritage status: n/a

The University of Canterbury School of Engineering’s Lecture Hall was completed during Guy Ngan’s time as an employee of the Ministry of Works (under Gordon Wilson), where he advised on how public art might be incorporated into architectural design.

Fondly referred to as the ‘Mushroom’ due to its appearance, the iconic Lecture theatre was one of the first buildings to appear on the Ilam campus. It was added to and modified several times during the years, and its copper roof gradually aged to a verdigris hue.

The building was damaged in a major earthquake in Canterbury on 22 February 2011, after which a decision was made to demolish it, along with Ngan’s mural.

A geometric mosaic tile mural featuring bands and rectangles in greys, with orange and yellow accents, 1987

Guy Ngan: Broadcasting House/Bowen State Building linkblock, 1957

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Mosaic tiles
Dimensions: Approx. 12m in length
Date: 1957
Original location: Broadcasting House and Bowen State Building linkblock, Pipitea, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington
Architect: Gordon Wilson, Ministry of Works Architectural Division
Current location: Destroyed
Heritage status: n/a

Guy Ngan’s mosaic tile mural for the linkblock between the Bowen State Building and Broadcasting House was designed and completed at a similar time to the Bledisloe State Building.

As Ken Davis notes, “Both the Bowen State Building and Broadcasting House were designed to form an architecturally harmonious whole and were separated by a sunken court and then linked by a canopy and mural faced wall. The mural consisted of abstract patterns of brightly coloured ceramic tiles and seemed inspired by modern abstract art.”

Colour-blocks in a range of greys, yellow and orange filled an entire wall and provided a backdrop for generous plantings.

Sadly, this work is no longer. Broadcasting House was demolished in 1997, and it is likely this mural was destroyed at the same time.

A geometric mosaic tile mural featuring bands and rectangles in greys, with orange and yellow accents, 1987
Image: Ken Davis, 1987

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).