John Sartain

A Masonic Print: The Iron Worker and King Solomon

95_028_1T1 Masonic prints can often be confusing to the uninitiated.  Sometimes, it can even be hard to tell whether a print is Masonic or not.  Upon first glance, the print pictured here (from the National Heritage Museum collection) may not appear to relate to Freemasonry, but if you dig deeper, it does have a connection.  Titled The Iron Worker and King Solomon, it depicts the celebration of the completion of King Solomon’s Temple, a Biblical structure that figures prominently in Masonic ritual and symbolism.

As illustrated by the print (and explained in printed text below the image), Jewish legend tells that King Solomon invited all of the people who worked on the Temple to the celebration, but when the throne was unveiled, a blacksmith was sitting in the place of honor.  Threatened by the crowd, the smith said, “Thou hast, O King, invited all craftsmen but me.  Yet how could these builders raise the Temple without the tools I fashioned.”  “True,” agreed Solomon, “The seat is his right.  All honor to the Iron Worker.”  In addition to connecting with Masonic symbolism, the print reflects its Gilded Age date of publication, when steel was a pre-eminent American industry.

Bradley and Bro. of Philadelphia published this steel engraving in 1889.  The artist, John Sartain (1808-1897), emigrated to Philadelphia from London in 1830.  Sartain enjoyed a prolific career as an engraver.  He also published magazines.  In 1876, he headed the art department for the Centennial Exposition, which was held in Philadelphia.

The Iron Worker and King Solomon, 1889, John Sartain (1808-1897), artist, Bradley and Bro., publisher, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, National Heritage Museum, gift of Clement M. Silvestro, 95.028.1.   Photograph by David Bohl.