The keen eyes and hands of the clergy were the key to uncovering lost and forgotten Taranaki church art thought to be more than 100 years old.
Five large sections of painted tin and wood were discovered, well preserved, beneath leatherboard panels at the Holy Trinity Church in Fitzroy.
Assistant priest Oliver Roberts found the artwork after looking at an old photo of the church with Archdeacon of Parininihi and priest in charge Tricia Carter, who suggested they look under the wall panels in the nave.
"I said to Oliver over a cup of tea, I wonder why they put those panels there, and then, when he had a moment, he had a look," Mrs Carter said.
Mr Roberts said he used a fine nail punch and a hammer to lift the corner of one of the panels.
"It's thin board and I didn't want to split the wood in case they had to go back, but I saw the pattern and thought I had to keep going," Mr Roberts said.
Two wooden panels and three tin panels which can be seen in a photo of the church from 1910 were uncovered, still brightly painted, and Mr Roberts said he thought concealing the art may have been an attempt to modernise the church during early renovations.
The Holy Trinity Church was the first church, and the first Anglican church, to be built in Taranaki in 1845, said Mrs Carter.
"It pre-dates the cathedral and people don't even know it exists," she said.
Mrs Carter, also an historian, said the art could date back to the earliest days of the church, when it was a raupo hut before the Taranaki wars.
The church has been the subject of two separate conservation reports in the last two years, one by the Historic Places Trust and another by an independent inspector, but neither picked up on the treasure hidden beneath the walls.
"I think they just assumed it was gone," Mrs Carter said.
Both Mr Roberts and Mr Carter said they were thrilled with their find.
"I think it's absolutely amazing. It was built for the building and the church is an unusual shape," she said.
They were also keen to learn more about the history of the art.
"We don't have anyone in the congregation who remembers them. It's unusual, people always go `Oh I remember this or this', but nobody is this time," Mrs Carter said.
She had spoken to the Historic Places Trust which would review its report, and she hoped to keep the art on display in the church.
Puke Ariki manager of heritage collections Kelvin Day was impressed with the condition of the paintings.
"It's amazing how beautifully they've survived.
"It's great to see them back so people can enjoy them," he said.
Do you know anything about the art? Give the Taranaki Daily News a call on 067590813 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Taranaki Daily News
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