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Bedford, Indiana Outsider Artist August Mack Revisited

February 15th, 2009 · No Comments

We blogged last year about two unusual “outsider art,” or folk art, postcards from Bedford, Indiana which showed the dramatic c. 1940s work and religious visions of folk artist August Gustav Mack. His folk art display was six miles north of Bedford, on State Road 37 in Lawrence County, IN, but we didn’t know much else about this intriguing artist. Surprising new information has surfaced.

The Brazen Serpent, by Outsider Folk Artist August Mack of Bedford, Indiana 1

Reader David Seaney of Indianapolis, Indiana, who chronicles an amazing number of c. 1920s to 1960s illegal Midwestern casinos and speakeasies at his website, advises that Mack emigrated to America from West Prussia, Germany in 1891, when he was 12. He became a stonecutter in Lawrence County, Indiana, which is world famous for its limestone. Later, in 1942, Mack self-identified as a sculptor.

The alert Seaney also located an August 10, 1931 newspaper article from The Valparaiso Vidette Messenger which contains the story “ Raiders Find Old Time Saloon in a Hen House.” The article contains surprising information about some of Mr. Mack’ other, less-than-godly, activities. It seems that during Prohibition, he ran afoul of the law in Bedford. Mack was operating a speakeasy in a hen house on a farm one mile north of Oolitic, and was raided by [Lawrence County] Sheriff John Tyree and a posse. According to Tyree, one of several of Mack’s hen houses had been outfitted as an old-time saloon and was furnished with tables and chairs, a refrigerator, poker tables and slot machines. Mack was charged with violating prohibition laws and between 500 and 600 bottles of beer, mash and other liquor-making supplies were confiscated.

Reader Seaney also found an eight-year-old post by Sue Mack on the WoodCarvers Web, which reads: “Sometime in the 20s, 30s or 40s, August Mack carved from wood a serpent that is now in a museum. It is called the ‘Brazen Serpent’ and it coiled, hissed, and rattled like a real one. It was 21 feet long and weighed about 300 pounds. It had 362 ribs and over 4000 scales on its body. It had the appearance of a large diamondback rattlesnake. It works by the power of a small motor. We believe he carved it in Oolitic, Indiana which is south of Bloomington, Indiana on Highway 37, just north of Bedford, Indiana. We believe it is in a museum somewhere in the Carolinas or the vicinity. Has anyone seen it? He is an ancestor and we’re doing some family history. He also has carved a merry-go-round and animals until his death on July 26, 1947.”

The Brazen Serpent, by Outsider Folk Artist August Mack of Bedford, Indiana 2

Feel free to jump into this thread, if you have more information about folk artist Mack. Seaney says there are two other articles about Mack at The Bedford [Indiana] Times Mail website. A June 24, 1997 articles chronicles Mack’s life and works, while an August 4,2008 story is about the mechanical snake. Unfortunately, this is a pay site, and these articles were not accessed.

Read our original post about outsider artist August Mack or see our selection of roadside America postcards at our website. Or, visit the world’s largest postcard bookstore.

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