Milan Mrkusich: Chelsea House, 1960

Artist: Milan Mrkusich
Title:
Medium: Glass mosaic
Dimensions:
Date: 1960
Original location: Chelsea House, 85 Fort Street, Auckland
Architect:
Current location: In its original location
Heritage status: None at present however there is an information plaque located next to the work

Milan Mrkusich was commissioned to design a mural for the lobby of Fort Street’s Chelsea Sugar Refinery Building, known as Chelsea House. In 1960, as a response he created a large-scale mosaic mural. Mrkusich’s dynamic mural features an abstract arrangement of blocks of brightly coloured glass mosaic tiles. The full-height mural follows the undulating curve of the interior wall.

The mural was later covered up by an internal false wall. In 2016 Chelsea House was redeveloped and the mural was uncovered. It is now prominently displayed in the building’s foyer and visible from the footpath. The owner has also installed a plaque with information about the artwork and artist in the foyer.

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).