Photo-engraving mural wall by Naomi Savage
A centerpiece in the Great Hall of the LBJ Library is the photo-engraving mural by artist Naomi Savage. A series of five deeply etched magnesium plates, each 8 feet by 10 feet, portray LBJ as a political figure from the time he arrived in Washington to serve in the House of Representatives in 1937. The engravings depict him with Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and finally as President of the United States.
The photo-engravings were based on news photos selected by President Johnson and reworked by the artist in the darkroom using methods she had been refining and combining for over 20 years. These techniques consisted of contrast printing, solarization, reverse negatives, and texture screening. From the resulting photographs, photo-engraved models were made on a scale of one inch to one foot. From these models negatives were made and enlarged in twelve sections to their final size. The photo-engravings were made of magnesium which were then electro-copperplated and silverplated and oxidized by hand by the artist to achieve the final antique patina they now have. The unique textured effect results from the extreme depth of the etch on 3/8-inch metal plates. The final hand finishing of the mural took place at Chemigraphic Company in Ambler, Pennsylvania, where the etchings had been fabricated. Their research and development facilities were equipped with specially designed equipment to provide Mrs. Savage with a massive studio to facilitate each step of the process. The final collaboration achieved by Mrs. Savage and Chemigraphic resulted in a 20th century triumph and new art form which will be applicable to architectural use in interiors or exteriors in the manner of modern bas-relief. This document describes the process used to create the mural and includes photos taken during its production.
[LBJ Library photo #DIG13485-004 by Lauren Gerson]
About the artist:
Naomi Savage studied new camera and darkroom techniques for more than 20 years and specialized in using the photo-engraving technique as an end in itself rather than as a means for reproduction. Until the LBJ Library commission presented itself, however, she had never attempted a project of this size. It indeed may be said, in the words of Man Ray with whom Mrs. Savage studied, that the 'message justifies the medium.' About her work he has written, "Naomi is the most beautiful photographer I know. That already is an accomplishment. She took up photography as naturally as a flower turns toward light. She is part of her environment. Whatever the medium, selection is the first step towards creation. In her choice she is well on the way to creative personality. For every adverse criticism, there is always a favorable one. A genuine artist ignores both. I do not like to sing praises, always suspect, but I do know this: Naomi seeks more than to be merely a good photographer. She has all the freedom and daring of a painter with all the freedom and daring that this word has come to signify in our time."
Mrs. Savage has worked principally with black and white still photography and used methods of distortion of focus, double exposures, photograms, glass photo-engravings, photo color toners, made photo collages and photo objects of multilayered positive negatives and plexiglass, superimposed negatives on prints on foil paper as well as silk-screened photos on canvas. Over the years, the themes that reoccur in her photographs include portraits, landscapes, trees, flowers, statues, mannequins, masks, abstract designs from toys, kitchen utensils, objects of paper, plastic, dental and opthamological equipment, and tennis. Mrs. Savage is constantly combining techniques of past and present to form a new variation one could call Photo-Graphics. Her prints are not dated, as she reuses negatives that may have been done in previous years, always alert to the exploration of the unexpected phenomena. Her works are included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as in many private collections.
The wife of the architect, sculptor, and painter David Savage, Naomi Savage studied art and photography at Bennington College, worked with Man Ray, and then did freelance work on numerous magazine assignments in New York. After their marriage, the Savages lived, worked and studied in Paris before returning to the states and their life in Princeton with their two children. She died in 2005 at the age of 78.
About the photograph:
The large image of the wall was provided by photographer Dave Wilson under the terms of the Creative Commons, Non-Commercial, Attribution-Required license. It may be re-used as long as a byline is provided.