22 May, 2019
Rediscovered modernist work unveiled in library
A historic mural by an acclaimed New Zealand modernist artist is on display in the Takapuna Library after being lost for three decades.
In 1961, Wellington-based artist E. Mervyn Taylor created the ceramic mural, Te Ika-a-Maui, as a commission for the New Zealand Post Office, to celebrate the completion of the Tasman leg of the new Commonwealth Pacific Cable (COMPAC).
“There was an analogy, [Taylor] thought, between the ‘fishing up’ of New Zealand by Maui and its modern counterpart, where the new cable again draws New Zealand out of the Pacific into the telephone systems of the world,” a press release about the mural stated at the time.
Prior to COMPAC, New Zealand had an unreliable radio-based telephone service.
The mural was housed in the COMPAC terminal at 1 Akoranga Drive in Northcote and open to the public until after the cable was decommissioned in November 1984.
In the late 80s, the Post Office was split into three new enterprises and, a few years later, one, Telecom, was sold to two US-based businesses, Bell Atlantic and Ameritech. Around this time, a high-security fence was installed around the Northcote COMPAC complex.
Tiles had started falling off the mural, which was taken down and stored in boxes in an adjacent office until 2014, when they were rediscovered by a PhD student, Bronwyn Holloway-Smith.
Artist Holloway-Smith was researching the origins of today’s Southern Cross Cable, which reaches land at Takapuna Beach and is the country’s main internet link.
She led a project to restore the mural and create a photographic version.
The restoration of the ceramic mural was completed by the Spark Arts Trust, with assistance from Devonport conservator Rose Evan.
Te Ika-a-Maui is one of only eight remaining murals by Taylor, only three of which are ceramic-tile murals.
Spark worked with Auckland Council to find a suitable home for the work, with Takapuna Library chosen this year, because of its proximity to the Southern Cross Cable.
Te Ika-a-Maui is on display in the Research North area on level one of the library, where a weight-bearing wall is strong enough to carry the heavy ceramic artwork.