Artist 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 protégé 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.
Warner 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."
"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."
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.
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.