Warner Sallman Biography
Warner Sallman was born in Chicago in 1892. At an early age he showed a talent
for drawing and painting and was encouraged by his artistic parents. He was fascinated
by all kinds of religious art, such as stained glass windows and paintings of Biblical
scenes. The latter greatly influenced the boy both artistically and spiritually.
His keen interest in art continued as he grew older. Upon graduation from school, Sallman
apprenticed in local studios while attending night classes at Chicago Art Institute.
There he became a protege of the noted Spanish War newspaper illustrator Walter
Marshall Cluett. Sallman was later affiliated with various local studios until
he established one of his own.
In 1916, he married Ruth Edith Anderson. A period of severe testing came not long after
when Sallman was told he had tuberculosis and probably had but three months to live. His
wife suggested they pray about it and let the Lord have His way in the matter. This
they did, and a remarkable though gradual restoration to health began.
Sallman later enrolled in evening classes at a Bible school where Dr. E.O. Sellers was
dean. One Saturday afternoon Sallman was called into the dean's office, where the
conversation went something like this:
"I understand that you're an artist, Sallman, and I'm interested in knowing
why you are attending this institute."
Through these and many other experiences, God was at work in the life of Warner
Sallman, preparing him for the creation of Head of Christ.
The idea came to him on a January night in 1924 as he was struggling to produce a
cover illustration for a denominational magazine of which he was chief illustrator. He
hastily made a three-inch thumbnail sketch from which he did the final charcoal drawing.
"Well, I'm here because I wanted to increase my knowledge of the Scriptures. I want to
be an illustrator of Biblical subjects."
"Fine! There is a great need for Christian artists. Sometime I hope you give us your
conception of Christ, and I hope
it's a manly one. Most of our pictures today are too effeminate."
"You mean to say you think Jesus was a more rugged type? More of a man's man?"
"Yes, according to the way I read my Bible. We know he walked great distances and
slept out under the stars; he was rugged and strong. He preached in the desert
so he must have been tanned. More than that, the Word says he set his face 'like a flint' to
go down to Jerusalem, so he wasn't soft or flabby. We need a picture of that kind of
Christ, Sallman, and I hope you will do it some day."
The picture did not gain wide recognition until 1933 when Dr. John T. Stone, then president
of McCormick Theological Seminary, suggested to his senior class that they find a picture
which to them was the most accurate representation of the Christ. The students
brought in their selections, which included many of the old masterpieces. But the picture
voted first was not any of these, but a charcoal drawing by an unknown artist. It was
Warner Sallman's Head of Christ.
Following this manifest interest one of America's largest church supply houses took on
the distribution of prints in the charcoal edition. Late in 1940, when there was a great
need for a color edition. Sallman painted it in oils. The first quantity of prints was
published and copyrighted in 1941 by Kriebel and Bates. Many editions have been
printed since and the reproductions have gone to all parts of the world.
Back to "Warner Sallman Prints"