Herman Faber and the Academy Lion (1877)

lionfabersm.jpg“After having an everlasting lot of trouble about getting an eagle to suit[,] it one day came into my mind to look up the correspondence of the lion. It seemed in every way so much superior to the eagle in its representation of powers and ‘The Lord as to his Divine Humanity’ that I called the attention of the Phil.[adelphia] hierarchy to it. Their investigation resulted in a unanimous cry for the lion” (Walter C. Childs. Letter to William H. Benade. 6 January 1878. Academy of the New Church Archives).

In the letter quoted above, Walter C. Childs writes from Philadelphia to Rev. William H. Benade to update him on the progress being made on the design for an official seal for the Academy of the New Church. It is interesting to note that at this time Benade and John Pitcairn were on an extended trip to Europe, Egypt, and the Holy Land to spread word about the Academy and to see for themselves the land of the Bible.

The first meeting about the Academy seal had taken place in the spring of 1877, and the design decided upon at that time “was similar to that which was later adopted except that the crest was an eagle” (Walter C. Childs. Letter to William F. Pendleton. 13 February 1918. Academy of the New Church Archives).

The job of producing a formal design for the seal was entrusted to the Dreka engraving house in Philadelphia. The founder, Louis Dreka, is noted for having produced a new seal for the United States Senate in 1885. Walter C. Childs, an Academy member, was responsible for working with Dreka to create a design. He was assisted in this effort by Maria Hogan. Dreka was never able to draw an eagle for the top of the seal that everyone could agree on, so Childs proposed the idea of the lion. The lion was to represent “the Lord’s Divine Human, the keys signifying the power of His Divine truth” (see “The Origin of the Academy Seal,” in New Church Life 1953, 435).

Herman Faber, a New Church artist, created a design for the lion late in 1877. As Childs told the story, “do what the designers could, they never produced an eagle that gave satisfaction and from this cause months passed without our being able to get the seal made. From the instant, however, that the Lion was substituted, the difficulties seemed to vanish and Faber produced a design that seemed to strike all of our members with the idea that at last we had it” (Walter C. Childs. Letter to William H. Benade. 13 April 1878. Academy of the New Church Archives).

faber.jpgFaber was born in Germany in 1832, where he trained as an illustrator. In 1854 he immigrated to America, and was baptized into the New Church by William H. Benade on Christmas, 1855. He taught art in Benade’s very first New Church school on Cherry Street beginning in 1857, and afterwards at the Academy of the New Church in Philadelphia until at least 1894. He has been described as one of the founders of medical illustration as a profession in the United States. Faber served as a medical illustrator for the United States Army during the Civil War, and is remembered by history for his pencil drawing of President Lincoln’s deathbed, the only drawing made at the scene.

drekalion2.jpgFaber’s design for the Academy lion was quickly accepted by the committee, and Dreka was then able to produce a watercolor design of the seal (now on display in the John and Gertrude Pitcairn Archives), using Faber’s lion as a guide. It is not known whether the original Faber lion that was shown to the committee and Dreka still exists. However, Glencairn Museum owns a much later Faber watercolor in its New Church collection (see photo at top of page, 07.WC.837). This painting, which shows a robust Academy lion cradling a key between his paws, was a gift to the museum by Frances Schaill Goodman. It is signed, “H. Faber, June 19th, ’92, Philadelphia.”

Photo of Herman Faber used with the permission of the National Museum of Health and Medicine

Further reading:

“The Academy Seal as Seen in Three Early Medallions in the Collection of Glencairn Museum”

“Herman Faber: Civil War Caricaturist,” by Michael Rhode, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Herman Faber in the National Museum of Health and Medicine (drawings by Faber are at the bottom of the page)

Note: Answers to last week’s New Church History Quiz have been published here

May 21, 2007 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact