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THE LOWER HUTT WAR MEMORIAL LIBRARY MURALS

The Lower Hutt Civic Centre is comprised of four buildings, St James Church, the Town Hall, the Horticultural Hall and the War Memorial Library (pictured). The Library was designed by Ron Muston and opened in 1956.

In October 1955 Ron Muston commissioned Len to paint three murals for the Library, two for the Memorial Hall, the main entrance to the building, measuring 20 feet tall by 14 feet wide(approximately 6 metres by 4.2 metres), and a third to be hung above the main desk, measuring 8.5 feet tall by 28 feet wide (approximately 2.5 metres by 8.5 metres). They were the largest murals ever to be commissioned in New Zealand up to that time and Len was faced with the daunting task of designing and completing the murals within three and a half months.

Human Endeavour mural, Lower Hutt War Memorial Library
Their Sacrifice and Preserved Freedom murals, Lower Hutt War Memorial Library

The murals still take pride of place in the Library today although, as part of renovations, the largest mural Human Endeavour no longer hangs above the main  issues desk.

The original brief was for the murals to be painted directly onto the walls but Len was adamant they be done on canvas, he wanted his work to be of a lasting nature, and had concerns around earthquake risk and maintenance. Len’s wish was enventually granted on condition that the building contractors, W.M. Angus Ltd., make up the frames to precise measurements laid down by Ron Muston. However, the wait for the frames cut severely into Len’s time with them only arriving in December. The Library was scheduled to open on the 28th of February. Len’s brother, Frank, undertook the huge job of covering the frames which he did using a heavy linen fabric treated with copper to ensure long life and imperviousness to water damage and light. Len worked day and night to complete the commission on time, giving them up for delivery to the Library on the 24th of February. Len, Frank and their father, Leonard Cornwall Mitchell, worked all weekend to install the murals and complete the lettering. Once the panels were installed above the main desk, a ribbon had to be painted to tie the five panels together as one work. This task, which couldn’t be done until the panels were finally installed, was completed by Len’s father.

The official opening was set for the afternoon of Tuesday 28th February and Frank recalls that Len was still hard at work, up a ladder, as the first guests started to arrive. It had been planned to hold the ceremony outside but due to the unseasonably wet day it was decided to move everyone inside.

HUMAN ENDEAVOUR

Human Endeavour, Leonard Victor Mitchell, oil on canvas 1956. 250cm x 850cm, composed of five canvases each approximately 167cm x 250cm. On display, Lower Hutt War Memorial Library.

Len’s subject for this mural was arts and sciences and Leonard drew inspiration from a quotation from the Book of Proverbs, “The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge.”

The 50 life-size figures depicted in this mural represent the different aspects of human endeavour, including education, the arts, healthcare, agriculture, commerce and the armed forces. Each figure is a portrait of an actual Lower Hutt resident with Len’s objective being to provide a cross-section of the community in the period in which the library was erected. Once the five panels were installed a ribbon was painted to tie the five panels together as one work. This task, which couldn’t be done until the panels were finally installed, was completed by Len’s father, Leonard Cornwall Mitchell.

The identity of some of the figures remains uncertain and one is sadly unidentified. From left to right, the figures are thought to be:

PANEL ONE

Leonard Victor Mitchell, Artist (a self portrait); James W. (Jim) Gawn, Sculptor (Len’s close friend and colleague); William (Bill) Amour, Chief Reporter, Hutt News; William (Bill) Kerr, Manager, Hutt News; Fred V. Ellis, Head of the Wellington Technical School of Art (where Len studied); Maru Macpherson Jones, Potter; Bob Goldfinch, Electrical Engineer with the Post & Telegraph; Mary Mackenzie, Actress & Director, Hutt Repertory; F.S. (Stan) Ramson, Headmaster, Hutt Valley High School; Naera Pomare, School Boy (Grandson of Sir Maui and Lady Pomare); Patricia Horsham (Frethey), School Girl & Ballet Dancer.

PANEL TWO

Stanley Oliver, Conductor; Enid Bond, School Teacher, Hutt Valley High School; Jennifer Muston, School Girl (architect Ronald Muston’s daughter); Sir Thomas Mason Wilford, NZ High Commissioner to London & MP; William T. Strand, Former Mayor & Local Politician (possibly a posthumous portrait taken from a photograph); Ken Climie, Draughtsperson/Structural Engineer; Keith Cook, Architect (Electricity Board Building); Ronald Muston, Architect (War Memorial Library); Ken Angus, Building Contractor (War Memorial Library); Sir Walter Nash, Leader of the Labour Party.

PANEL THREE

Dr Te Punga, Geologist; Dr William Fogg, Medical Superintendent, Hutt Hospital; Emily Pearse, Matron, Hutt Hospital.

PANEL FOUR

Peter W. Barlow, Manager BNZ Lower Hutt; Brock F. Jamieson, Managing Director, Ford Motor Co., Lower Hutt; Gwen Wilson, Bank Clerk; Harlow Gage, Managing Director, General Motors (attribution uncertain); Charlie Titter, Foreman, Angus Construction (War Memorial Library); Joan Gibbons, Shop Assistant, Carey’s the Drapers, Lower Hutt; Marshall Mackie, Grocer, Mackie’s 4 Square, Eastbourne; Superintendent Morris Ernest Lines, Police Superintendent, Lower Hutt Police (attribution uncertain); Neil Gillespie, Solicitor to the Lower Hutt City Council; Detective Inspector James Murray, C.I.B., Prosecutor, Lower Hutt Magistrates Court; Justice Ernst Peterson Hay, Judge & Former Mayor (posthumous portrait); Brigadier Alan Andrews, Army Officer (NZ 8th Army); Leonard Pahl, Butcher; Captain Henry (Johnnie) Walker, Chief Pilot, NAC (attribution uncertain).

PANEL FIVE

Air Vice Marshall Ian Morrison, Airforce Officer(attribution uncertain); Sir Peter Phipps, Naval Officer, R.N.Z.R.; Captain Frank Taylor, Commodore, NZ Navy; Unidentified Bus Driver for New Zealand Railways Road Services; John Butt, Plumbing Apprentice; Ralph Edward (Jim) Sparks, Postman, NZ Post Office; Ernest John (Jack) Cottle, Farmer; Peter Bleakley, Fitter, NZ Railways Workshops, Woburn; John W. Allison, Engine Driver, NZ Railways; Hector G. Hume, Chief Fire Officer, Lower Hutt Fire Brigade; Bernard Knowles, Electrician; Neal B. McLean, Labourer.

A large number of Len’s original conte drawings for the Human Endeavour mural are held in the collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

THEIR SACRIFICE & PRESERVED FREEDOM

Their Sacrifice, Leonard Victor Mitchell, oil on canvas 1956. 600cm x 420cm. On display, Memorial Hall, Lower Hutt War Memorial Library.
Preserved Freedom, Leonard Victor Mitchell, oil on canvas 1956. 600cm x 420cm. On display, Memorial Hall, Lower Hutt War Memorial Library.

Len’s subject for the first of the Memorial murals was War and Sacrifice, although the work was renamed Their Sacrifice. Figures representing the services are depicted alongside others who had participated in the war effort. The subject for the second of the Memorial murals was The Four Freedoms, although the work was renamed Preserved Freedom. The work portrays freedom of worship and speech, and freedom from fear and want.

Both murals will be painted so as to appear as one, though they will be divided by an etched glass panel set in marble and it is my intention to depict the events already described against the immensity of the Universe. Out of the sacrifices of war, man ever aspires to nobility and truth. A battle-scarred tree on the left has not been so mutilated that it cannot produce a budding limb - a symbol of future growth. The tree of life on the right represents mankind's ultimate fulfilment. The rising sun beyond suggests the dawn of a greater endeavour.

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