Mural found after nationwide search

By Paul Mulrooney

The rediscovered Wairoa Centennial Library mural.

A profile two years ago about PhD candidate Bronwyn Holloway-Smith and her search for the works of a celebrated New Zealand artist, has paid off. Paul Mulrooney reports about the significant discovery.


One of several missing murals made by renowned New Zealand artist, craftsman and designer, E Mervyn Taylor, has been found.

Massey University PhD candidate Bronwyn Holloway-Smith launched a search three years ago for 12 murals crafted by Taylor between 1956 and 1964. She also edited a book honouring the work of Taylor, who studied at Wellington Polytechnic – a forerunner institution to Massey’s College of Creative Arts. Holloway-Smith already has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University.

Holloway-Smith, who is director of the E Mervyn Taylor Mural Search and Recovery Project, says the discovery was the “most exciting and dramatic” within the whole search project, and “we were thrilled to find it safe and sound after all this time”.

Days away from the book going to print the project team heard via a phone call that the mural by E. Mervyn Taylor commissioned for the Wairoa Centennial Library had been found at an undisclosed location.

The discovery was made in time for a photo of the work to be included in the book WANTED The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor, which was launched in March It is widely available through bookstores or through the Massey Press website:

A generous supporter of the project team had offered to fund a reward of $5000 for the first person who provided information leading to the rediscovery of the mural.

It was through searching for online information on E Mervyn Taylor that the family who were to report the find noticed the publicity surrounding the search and immediately came forward. They have declined the reward money.

“The family who have the mural in their possession wish to remain anonymous, and as part of the conditions around a reward the project offered for its discovery [including its place of discovery], we need to honour this request,” Holloway-Smith says.

Taylor, best known for his wood engravings, created the mural and other public works of art at the end of his career as part of the vanguard of the New Zealand modernist movement. He worked with a number of materials including tiles, carved wood panels, sandblasted glass windows and paint to create these distinctive works in a truly original New Zealand language.

The Wairoa Centennial Library mural, painted in 1961, depicts Māori tangata whenua and colonial settlers in the Wairoa landscape. It was last seen during a library renovation in 2001 when it was successfully removed and stored. Library staff remembered a female family member visiting Wairoa and requesting the return of the work – but the artist’s family turned out to be unaware of this request.

“On discovery we can report that the painting covers nine large panels each just over a metre square and, while faded and with minor deterioration around the edges, it is in good shape,” Ms Holloway-Smith says.

“During the search process we have also discovered drawings that Taylor did for this Wairoa work, images of which are also included in the book.”

Studying for her PhD at Massey University, and with the support of College of Creative Arts Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor Claire Robinson, the search led by Holloway Smith and resulting book became a special project to mark the 130th anniversary of the founding of the college.

The search was inspired by the earlier discovery in 2015 of one of Taylor’s few surviving murals, Te Ika-a-Māui, the story of Maui fishing up the North Island. The mural had been stored in cardboard boxes in a disused cable station and was discovered when Holloway-Smith was researching another of her projects – the history of the Southern Cross Cable.

One objective of that research was de-mystify how the cable operated and how the internet was provided to New Zealand homes and businesses.

“Expressions like The Cloud, wireless and cyberspace evoke ideas that it is all happening above our heads, when it is all actually beneath our feet.”

She should know. Determined to actually see and touch the submerged cable, Ms Holloway-Smith planned a dive to the cable in a part of the Hauraki Gulf where it passes through a disused-explosives dumping ground. She gained her advanced open water diver certificate, then upskilled with a deep diver course to test if she was physically capable of undertaking the challenge.

In addition, she wanted to determine whether a dive to the cable amid growing security restrictions was achievable too.

Earlier this year she realised her ambition by diving to the cable in a secret location in the Hauraki Gulf.

“It was an exercise in real persistence but I got to hold it in my hands, a bit like Māui in E Mervyn Taylor’s mural Te Ika-a-Māui: the story of Māui fishing up the North Island.”