“The Settlers’, a mural by E. Mervyn Taylor, in the former Post Office building. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Artist’s hidden gem uncovered
An historic Wairarapa artwork “covered up” for the past five years is back on display in Masterton.
‘Early Settlers’ is one of two public artworks in Wairarapa by modernist artist E. Mervyn Taylor, and is located at the old Chief Post Office building on the corner of Queen St and Lincoln Rd.
The 1962 tiled mural, which depicts European settlers burning down native bush and planting grazing grasses, had originally been an outdoor feature of the former post office entrance.
In later years, it became part of indoor retail space.
The mural was walled-up in 2013 on the request of the tenant, clothing store Legal Theft, so they could better use the shop space.
It remained covered until the wall was knocked down this week, revealing the hidden gem.
The mural was uncovered at the request of the building’s new owner, Trevor Pearce, who had inadvertently become the guardian of the heritage item.
“We thought it should not be covered up and were pleased how well it still looks,” Mr Pearce said.
“I am not particularly ‘artistically aware’ but have been told it is significant and the artist is growing in stature, as they often do posthumously.”
The space is not tenanted, but Mr Pearce said his intention was to leave the mural uncovered.
“Even in the event of an ingoing tenant to this retail space we will insist that it remains fully visible.
“I cannot see how any retailer or cafe would not think that the public interest, not just local, would make this a ‘drawcard’ for this space”.
He said the mural may require glazing to protect it, “and we will take advice on this”.
Taylor, who died in 1964, was a major figure in New Zealand art and the country’s most noted muralist.
‘Early Settlers’ is on the Masterton District Council’s heritage list as a heritage item, however there is no heritage value on the building itself.
Wairarapa Archive historian Gareth Winter said Taylor was commissioned to do the work to coincide with the opening of the new Chief Post Office in 1962.
“This build replaced the second post office,” Mr Winter said.
The first building, which was wooden, was relocated and replaced with a brick building, however this structure sustained repeated damage from earthquakes.
The only recorded earthquake death in Masterton was in 1913 when a man was struck by a ball-shaped ornament from one of the gables on the brick building.
Mr Winter said the uncovering of the mural was exciting.
The other Taylor mural is at the Masterton War Memorial Stadium Hall of Memories.
“These are really important pieces of art,” he said.
“It’s really exciting that [Early Settlers] has been opened up again – Taylor is a well-recognised modernist artist.
“The new owner was very keen to see it restored, and to allow the public to see it again.”
A nearby shop owner, Lynn Simpson of Black Sheep Jewellery, has a quirky connection to the old Post Office Building.
She lives in the front half of the old wooden Post Office building, which was relocated to Parkvale in Carterton.
“I’ve restored half of it, and the other half is sitting somewhere else,” she said.
“After the wooden one, they built this flash brick one, but that got broken in the earthquake.
“Then of course, they built the other Post Office on the corner there.
She said she was “thrilled” to see the mural back on display.
“The mural shouldn’t be hidden or wasted,” she said.
“We don’t have enough of these in the area and we have got to preserve them.”