How to lose a mural – and find it again

How to lose a mural – and find it again

E. Mervyn Taylor, whose delicate wood engravings are familiar to many of us, also created 12 large murals during the 1950s and 60s, many in the Wellington area. You’d be hard pressed to find more than a couple of them now. The easiest to locate would be the graceful sand-blasted glass window of the Khandallah Presbyterian Church in Ganges Road. Then there is the sand-blasted window of the Otaki War Memorial Hall and a ceramic tile mural in Masterton War Memorial Stadium Hall.

Bronwyn Holloway-Smith told the full story in a riveting lecture to the Friends and also as the editor of a stunning new book “Wanted: The search for the modernist murals of E. Mervyn Taylor” recently published by Massey University Press.

Bronwyn’s lecture began with a roll call of all 12 murals, each illustrated with a striking image and with the latest news about their fate. The sad story is that two are now hidden behind walls or under paint, two are lost, one is missing and only seven have been found. Some of these have been damaged and then repaired. The latest find, a painted wall partition in the Wairoa Centennial Library was discovered too late to be included in the body of the book, but just in time for panels to be photographed. The location of the work remains a secret.

Murals are by definition large and usually fixed in position on the wall of a building. Their future is forever determined by what happens to the building, which is often owned by an organisation rather than an individual. Changes in ownership, fashion and scant respect for history, too often lead to the destruction of a mural. Inspired by Bronwyn’s search for E. Mervyn Taylor’s work, Massey University has set up the E Mervyn Taylor mural search & recovery project to support her ongoing research and to champion other examples of fine public art which could so easily be lost.

Lois Daish

Feature image (left to right): Elizabeth Ellis, Bronwyn Holloway-Smith Author, Linda Waters Conservator Paintings, Lois Daish.