The study of Māori mythology provided E Mervyn Taylor with a rich source of subject matter. Magical wooden head is based on the legend of a tohunga (priest), Hakawau, who challenged a carved wooden head that could cause death to anyone who gazed on it. Taylor’s early training as a jewellery designer and engraver honed his ability with expressive line, and this skill is perfectly demonstrated in this accomplished work. The finely detailed image creates a sense of tremendous energy and infinite space within a limited area. Taylor emphasises his mastery of the craft of wood engraving by drawing two straight lines diagonally across the image. These lines connect the eyes in the head to the figure of the tohunga in the lower right. They are essential to the fullest expression of the mythical story, and are beautifully integrated into the whole design, neither dominating nor distorting the composition.
In 1952 Taylor included Magical wooden head in his successful application for the Association of New Zealand Art Societies Fellowship. The recipient was usually required to travel overseas, but he used the funding to stay at Te Kaha on the east coast of the North Island, studying Māori life and customs from within Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. Taylor also promoted Māori myths and legends through his own private press publications and through his position as art editor and illustrator for the School Publications Branch of the Department of Education.
New Zealand flora and fauna were other areas of particular interest, and Taylor produced similarly exceptional wood engravings of these subjects. They were given due recognition with an exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1954. Nga huia is a fine example of his work in this area. There is a strong design, and the precisely illustrated details of both subjects and vegetation still convey a good sense of their inherent animal and botanical qualities.
Modest about his own achievements, Taylor’s subject matter places him as one ‘of a generation that understood the need to cast off colonialism and discover from within New Zealand a way to see the world and interpret its character from a South Pacific perspective’.
Print size: 480 x 610mm
Please note that processing time for Museum Collection Prints/Mātātuhi mai i kohinga o Te Papa is 5 to 10 business days.
Image colours may differ on personal devices compared to the physical print due to screen variations.