Sallman work at AU gets national spotlight

Thu, 2012-07-26 11:28 -- univcomm
The Wilson Gallery at Anderson University is keeping some impressive company these days, such as the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. The gallery was selected by USA Today as one of the top 10 locations in the world to view a portrait of Jesus. The gallery is home to one of the world’s most reproduced portraits of Jesus, painted in 1940 by Warner Sallman. The only other site in the United States on the USA Today list is a gallery at Concordia University in Nebraska. Other sites are in Turkey, Peru, Italy, and England. Anderson University and Warner Press in 1987 purchased the Sallman collection from Kriebel and Bates Inc. AU received the artwork and Warner Press holds the copyright on the works.

The “Head of Christ” was made into wallet-sized pictures by the Salvation Army and distributed to American soldiers during World War II.

Chris Williams, information director for AU, said people still come to the gallery with the original wallet-sized reproduction.

Most of the 250 pieces in the Sallman collection were made for mass reproduction, he said.

When Jason Knapp, now director of the Wilson Gallery, came to the AU campus in 1989 most of the Sallman collection was in crates.

“There was no space made for it,” he said. “Today the painting is almost always on exhibit.” He declined to estimate the painting’s value.

He expects another swell of interest because of the USA Today article.

“The first big national publicity about the Sallman collection was in the New York Times and we got a lot of inquiries,” he said. “I’m sure this will create more interest in the collection.”

Knapp said for many years there was no serious writing about Sallman and his paintings, but there has been a renewed interest in his work.

Williams said Sallman used to travel and give what has become known as “Chalk Talks” at churches around the country. Sallman would give a testimony about his faith and then sketch in chalk the “Head of Christ” or other works and donate it to the church.

Park Place Church of God in Anderson has two of the sketches.

Knapp said the “Head of Christ” painting is an important image for many religious groups and is often seen in Islamic countries.

“People come to see the painting like a pilgrimage,” Knapp said.

---Writer KEN de la BASTIDE is a reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin.