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: 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).