I first met artist Fran Mens when she moved 'home' to the Waipā from the Bay of Plenty about a year ago.

She wanted to show me her defining work — a three-dimensional tribute to Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper.

It was hard not to be impressed by the 260kg multi-media piece set up as a viewing experience in the garage of her Pirongia home.

What was harder was to come to grips with Fran's story about the inspiration and creation of the work.


I wanted to write about The Last Supper and how amazing it is — the words never seemed right as this is no 'cut and dried' story.

I saw the work again this year when members of St Patrick's Catholic parish and friends paid a visit and Father Joe Stack blessed the art work.

Fran reiterated again she has a vision for the work — that is is something that should be shared by New Zealanders in a way that it can do good and positive work.

The piece took about three-and-a-half years to complete.

A fan of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Fran says the idea of The Last Supper as a subject 'haunted' her dreams for a year.

"But I thought Leonardo da Vinci has already done it. I could never do it better. In the end my husband Joseph said 'do it'. That was in 2005."

She can remember the day she started work.

"It was August 15, 2005 — that was the day I brought the tanalised ply to my studio."


Fran says she sees visions and somehow knew she had to do it.

"I know it sounds odd, but it's the truth."

But there was no religious awakening in the inspiration.

"I don't have religion, but have the utmost respect for everyone's beliefs."

In February 2007 she showed her work for the first time in Tauranga's City Mall — partially completed — to gauge public reaction.

While she was creating it as a homage to the painter, she says many people appreciated and commented on it for its religious aspects.

"I adore Leonardo da Vinci but I can't believe how much religious and political debate the piece raises," she said at the time.

The Last Supper recreates the Bible passage in which Jesus announced that one of his 12 disciples would betray him.

At the first showing, most feedback was positive, with visitors writing encouraging comments in her book, so she was encouraged to continue.

The sculpture is made from recycled materials — chicken wire, small rocks, cement, mortar and wood.

There is also real bread on the table, but eating it could well be a real last supper as it has been dried and dipped in Duraglaze — which contains arsenic.

The work has had an interesting life since it was exhibited for the first time, completed, in ROW Gallery in Wharf St, Tauranga from Easter 2010.

In 2014 Fran was frustrated that the work had been refused by a number of galleries, so going against earlier claims it was not for sale she listed it on Trade Me.

Her plan was to show it to New Zealand and the rest of the world.

The $10 million asking price certainly attracted attention.

Fran says at the time she had tried to get the larger than life piece into local and national galleries, including Te Papa, but has always been refused.

She says at the time it broke her heart the piece was still sitting in her garage, when she knew the potential it had if the right person simply came and viewed the piece.

"Imagine it in the right room, with the proper lighting and seating. It's just mesmerising," she said at the time.

That is how she has it presented now — and it is mesmerising — but ultimately it still isn't what Fran wants for the work.

She still holds out hope that it will one day reach a wider audience — even though she has hosted thousands of people into her home in both Tauranga and Pirongia to view it.

Fran welcomes private and group viewings — contact her on 07 871 9383 to arrange a time.