Icons of American Protestantism

The Art of Warner Sallman

Edited by David Morgan

View Inside Price: $75.00


March 27, 1996
280 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
78 b/w + 12 color illus.
ISBN: 9780300063424
Cloth

Although American Protestants often claim that they are opposed to the use of devotional images in their religious life, they in fact draw on a vast body of religious icons to disseminate confessional views, to teach, and to celebrate birthdays, baptisms, confirmations, and sacred holidays. This fascinating book focuses on the production, marketing, and reception of one such set of religious illustrations, the art of Warner Sallman (1892-1968), whose 1940 Head of Christ has been reproduced an estimated five hundred million times.

Five scholars—three art historians, a church historian, and a historian of material culture—investigate various aspects of Sallman's career and art, in the process revealing much about the role of imagery in the everyday devotional life of American Protestants since the 1940s. The chapters examine Sallman's work in terms of the visual sources, media, and forms of use that shaped its making; its mass production, marketing, and distribution by publishers and vendors; and the commercial nature of Sallman's training and his work as an illustrator. Other chapters explore the reception of his religious imagery among those who admired it and saw in it a vision of the world as they would have it exist; the religious and theological context of conservative American Protestantism in which the imagery flourished; and its critical reception among liberal Protestant intelligentsia who despised Sallman's work and what it represented in popular Christianity. By placing Sallman's art in theological, ecclesiastical, and aesthetic perspective, the book sheds light on the evolving shape of twentieth-century American evangelicalism and its influence on modern American culture.

David Morgan is assistant professor and department chair of art at Valparaiso University.

"The book constitutes a major advance in understanding both modern Protestant iconography and religious elements of twentieth-century American popular art."—Jon Butler, Yale University

"A very illuminating and suggestive set of essays on the production and reception of a vitally popular set of twentieth-century religious images."—Leigh Schmidt, Princeton University

"A fascinating discussion of the unprecedented popularity of Warner Sallman's mass-produced paintings of Jesus among otherwise aniconic Protestants. . . . One hopes that the book will inspire other works that similarly trace the intentions and effects of artworks that have shaped religious consciousness."—Margaret R. Miles, Christian Century

"This book provides many shrewd insights into the reasons why the Sallman Jesus enjoyed such popularity."—Karal Ann Marling, Times Literary Supplement

"This beautifully produced volume, with an abundance of illustrations, pictures, and color plates, is matched by the success of the four contributors and editor Morgan in creating a descriptive and analytic account of the significance of Warner's Sallman's enormously popular religious art in American mass culture. . . . a fine piece of work that gives insight into the broader picture of American culture. It is a work that can be used in a variety of contexts. Like it or not, the piece demands a place in the discussion of the history of American art. It is useful for courses on American social and cultural history, American studies, and American religion."—Warren I. Vinz, Church History

"These essays analyze the historical and cultural influences which helped shape Sallman's depictions and trace their influence. Those interested in the relationship between religious art and American culture will find a helpful research approach outlined and executed in this book."—Mark A. Torgerson, Worship

"An extremely well-written and well-researched book that shows unity and careful collaboration. . . . This excellent volume is enhanced by beautiful color—as well as black and white—plates, splendid and thorough notes, and an adequate index. David Morgan et al. are to be highly commended. Their vision of placing a marginalized subject in the mainstream of American religious culture parallels the vision that Sallman himself ostensibly had on that early morning in January 1924."—George H. Shriver, The Historian

"Icons of American Protestantism gives us an excellent, complex description of the cultural production of a famous image and is highly suggestive about how this process happens with all art."—Nadine Pence Frantz, Religious Studies Review

Winner of the Choice 1996 Outstanding Academic Book Award