Illustrator Who Was Inspired by Molly Ivins and Ann Richards Wins Bush Library Contest


A detail from the winning entry

A medical illustrator from Dallas who spends his days drawing body parts and molecular structures has won The Chronicle‘s George W. Bush Presidential Library design contest.

Lewis E. Calver, an associate professor and chair of biomedical communications at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, beat out 120 other contestants, taking about 30 percent of the online vote with his beautifully drawn and carefully thought-out “Hole in the Ground” design.

The actual presidential library, which will be built at Southern Methodist University, will be designed by Robert A.M. Stern, dean of Yale University’s School of Architecture and head of Robert A.M. Stern Architects, a design firm best known for luxury condominiums and other high-end projects. The projected price tag is around $500-million.

In accordance with the contest rules, Mr. Calver’s design was submitted on the back of an envelope. It shows a White House façade propped up on stilts to catch the attention of Bush stalwarts as they drive down the highway adjacent to SMU’s campus. “I liked the idea of a false façade showing the White House so people who still believe in his presidency can at least have some kind of inspiration, even if it’s false inspiration,” Mr. Calver says.

The design also features a reflecting pool. “When people look down, they will see reflections of themselves and be reminded that the ones who voted for him were ultimately responsible,” he says. “I’ve always felt that as much as you might want to blame George Bush or Karl Rove or anyone else for the disaster of the presidency, the real people to blame were the voters who were duped.” The design includes an “Iraqi Freedom Military Cemetery” on the front lawn.

“I tried to make it look pretty professional, considering the constraints of drawing on the back of the envelope in pencil,” he says.

Mr. Calver says he drew inspiration from a former governor and from a well-known humorist who loved poking fun at the nation’s 43rd president. “I was inspired by two Texans whom I really admire that we lost recently—Ann Richards and Molly Ivins. I contemplated entering this thing and thought, ‘What the heck—they would probably enjoy the humor if they were here.’”

Mr. Calver, who says he loves to doodle in his spare time, does more serious drawing for a living. He has been the illustrator or co-illustrator more than 20 medical books, and draws everything from proteins to molecular structures and anatomical parts.

Eyes are a specialty—he has illustrated eye surgery with detailed examinations of the layers of cells in the retina. He lets his creative juices flow even when drawing eyeballs. A recent article on Southwestern Medical Center’s Web site promoted a collection of his drawings, describing one entitled “Contact Lens Factory” as “whimsical in nature” and “reminiscent of the famous art of M.C. Escher.”

It’s unlikely there will be any winding staircases in the book he just finished illustrating, though: The topic is gynecological surgery.

The Dallas artist fell into his occupation after switching from premedical studies to art while attending the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in the 1960s. When he was asked for a portfolio, “All I had to show them were cartoons I’d drawn for my high-school newspaper and drawings I had done in the margins of my science-class lecture notes,” he says. Michigan, however, was one of the few universities that had a program in medical illustration. “It was a perfect fit.”

For all of its biting commentary, Mr. Calver’s design, which won him an iPod Touch, wasn’t as hostile as some of the entries submitted to The Chronicle. Several designs were based on toilet or bunker motifs and one of the 18 finalists was a 12-story underground building shaped like a missile with a lounge where visitors would be able to listen in on any U.S. phone call.

That design was by Rosemary Morad, a self-employed architect in Charleston, S.C., who entered the contest after reading about it on a blog. “I was interested in depicting aspects of the Bush administration that I knew would never end up in the actual library,” she says. “I thought the main part should house all of the evidence of weapons of mass destruction that never existed,” she said of the building’s WMD Stockpile of Manufactured Evidence Library.

Another finalist, Patrick Stuart, called his design a “Cruciform Plan” and topped it with a replica of the Statue of Liberty making a decidedly unladylike gesture. That, he says, represents the nation’s foreign policy. The design also has giant fun-house mirrors “to warp future historical perspective.”

Mr. Stuart, an architect from Columbus, Ohio, says his design wasn’t motivated by anger. “It was just a fun way to let off some steam. It seemed like a creative way to make your voice heard.”

The Chronicle is now seeking a good home for the original contest entries. If your library would like to own and preserve them, write and tell us why. —Katherine S. Mangan

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