“Knocking,” an original drawing by James F. Gilman, 0.1256

 

Among the items in our collection that belonged to Mary Baker Eddy is a framed original illustration by James F. Gilman. It last hung in the library of Eddy’s Chestnut Hill home. Prior to that, it was displayed in her study at Pleasant View, her home in Concord, NH. The artwork is a monochrome image created by using a combination of Chinese wash, charcoal, and pencil on heavy paper. (Chinese wash is similar to watercolor only there is just one color – black.) The drawing was used as one of the plates in Eddy’s book Christ and Christmas, an illustrated poem. Although there is no title on the drawing, in the book it bears the title of “Truth versus Error.” The scene depicts a female figure knocking at the door of a large mansion. In her hand is a scroll with the word “Truth” written on it. The door of the mansion has a sign with the words “Mortal Mind.” Near the door is a window through which the viewer can see a festive party going on and the faces of two children looking out at the knocking figure. The adults are unaware of the visitor at the door.

Eddy had commissioned Gilman, an itinerant artist, in March of 1893 to illustrate her poem. It proved to be a project that would occupy Gilman up to the initial publication and for years after. Eddy was very involved with the creation of each drawing. Eddy wrote Gilman in March with instructions for this illustration. She said she wanted “a palatial home, and a sweet female beautiful child in simple garment, bare headed, bare footed, bare-armed, hair disheveled knocking at the door of this mansion on Christmas eve.”1 Then in June she instructed, “The word ‘Truth’ should be put on the scroll in the hand of the figure illustrating the last verse.”2 Eddy was quite specific in her requirements for each illustration.

In December of 1893 the first edition was published, but Gilman’s drawings were difficult to reproduce. They were “soft,” lacking strong definition between highlight, shadow, and mid-tone. It was enough of a challenge to photographically reproduce the illustrations, but to produce them in an ink medium and maintain a full grey scale was even more difficult. After an initial attempt by a Concord printer, Eddy turned to H. E. Carlton of Gardner, Massachusetts, to produce the gravure plates and to print the illustrations. Even with today’s technology, the reproduction of Gilman’s illustrations still present a challenge.

Eddy commented in the January 1894 issue of The Christian Science Journal: “This poem and its illustrations are as hopelessly original as ‘Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures.’… ‘Christ and Christmas’ voices God through song and object lesson.”3 Unfortunately many of Eddy’s followers were using it in a way that Eddy did not intend. Rather than finding the book inspiring and turning back to Eddy’s primary work, Science and Health for healing, they focused on the illustrations and used them in their efforts to heal. Eddy wrote a student: “I see by the signs of the times that some of my students are harming the cause by the use they make of Christ and Christmas. I intended the book for a novelty and an awakening then for the readers to return to the books [the Bible and Science and Health] for study…”4 Even though Christ and Christmas was already into its second edition Eddy withdrew the book by mid January of 1894. She wrote her adopted son, Ebenezer J. Foster Eddy, “I have stopped my book Christ & Xmas being printed! The students make a golden calf of it …”5

Truth_vs_Error_1898_4thedforwebjpg.
Truth_vs_Error_1910forweb
“Truth versus Error” as it first appeared in the 4th edition (1898) and as it appeared in the 9th edition (1910)
of Christ and Christmas.

In 1897 Eddy reissued Christ and Christmas in its third edition, and began working with Gilman, altering some of the illustrations for the fourth edition. Eddy wrote Gilman, “On ‘Knocking’ Mr. Frye forgot to say that I want the inscriptions on the door and the scroll removed.”6 And later: “Please alter the plate Knocking that is now in Christ and Christmas thus. Make the door like the new plate leave the lettering off of scroll [and] make the door plate prettier…”7

Truth_vs_Error_1917forweb
1917 approved “Truth versus Error” illustration, retouched photograph of 0.1256

Interestingly, although other altered illustrations for Christ and Christmas are in the archives of The Mother Church, “Truth versus Error” (aka “Knocking”) is not among them. It was missing in 1917 when new printing plates were needed to reprint the book. In order to create the needed printing plate, a photograph was made of the original illustration and a graphic artist then removed the inscriptions, added the floor mosaic, and carved design to the door, staying true to Eddy’s requested changes and Gilman’s implementation of the illustration. The question remains as to what happened to Gilman’s second version of “Truth Versus Error.” Looking through the collections we find a letter from Gilman to Eddy in which he says, “I have substantially completed the picture, ‘Knocking’ such as is…. Shall I send it to you for your inspection and approval, or will a plate from it by Mr. Carlton [the printer] of the size of the one in ‘Christ & Christmas’ be sufficient?” At the bottom of the letter is written: “Mrs. Eddy wishes me to thank you and say Do not send either of the pictures she has no chance to correct the drawing if even it needs it, and she trust[s] you for the result she says it should be par excellence.”8

Apparently, Gilman took Eddy at her word and never sent the illustration. Thus the final iteration of “Truth Versus Error” never became part of Eddy’s or her church’s records. Whether it remained with Gilman or with the printer, its whereabouts remain unknown. Fortunately, Eddy preserved the first version of the drawing, from which a faithful final image could be rendered.

As a matter of interest, Christ and Christmas has just been reprinted in a large format clothbound edition, which showcases the artwork of Mary Baker Eddy’s illustrated poem in stunning detail. Advances in digital photography and printing have enabled the subtleties of Gilman’s artwork to be accurately captured from the original drawings.

For more information about Christ and Christmas and James Gilman, see Painting a Poem: Mary Baker Eddy and James F. Gilman Illustrate Christ and Christmas (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1998).

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  1. Mary Baker Eddy to James H. Gilman, 20 March 1893, L02285.
  2. Eddy to Gilman, 17 June 1893, L02294.
  3. Mary Baker Eddy, “Christ and Christmas,” The Christian Science Journal, January 1894,  http://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/jy5o1df7mk?s=t.
  4. Eddy to Augusta Stetson, 22 January 1894, H00133.
  5. Eddy to Ebenezer J. Foster Eddy, 10 January 1894, L01883.
  6. Eddy to Gilman, 15 October 1897, L02329.
  7. Eddy to Gilman, 22 November 1897, L02332.
  8. Gilman to Eddy, 1 November 1897, L18778.