Lent, Day 12

LOOK: Mr. & Mrs. Satan Fishing by Leroy Almon

Almon, Leroy_Mr. and Mrs. Satan Fishing
Leroy Almon (American, 1938–1997), Mr. & Mrs. Satan Fishing, 1991. Polychrome bas-relief wood carving, 22 1/2 × 24 in. Gordon Gallery, Nashville.

Leroy Almon (1938–1997) was born in Tallapoosa, Georgia, but grew up in Ohio. While working for Coca-Cola in Columbus, he met the self-taught woodcarver Elijah Pierce [previously] at Gay Tabernacle Baptist Church, where Pierce served as lay preacher, and in 1979 became apprenticed to him. Pierce taught Almon how to make low-relief carvings in wood using pocketknives and hand chisels, and then to paint them. Initially the two collaborated on pieces, until 1982, when Almon returned to Tallapoosa. There he restored his childhood home, converting the basement into an art studio. Like his mentor, he too combined the vocations of art making and evangelical preaching.

Almon is well known for his didactic carvings on the subjects of religion, politics, and African American history. The battle between good and evil is at the forefront of his art. Satan fishing for souls is a theme he developed and returned to many times in variation; see, for example, here, here, here, and here. Such carvings show a caricatured Satan (red, horned, spiky-tailed, and goateed) dangling various vices—gambling, promiscuity, sex, drugs, greed, hypocrisy, etc.—as bait before humans who appear ready to bite. Sometimes he’s joined by his wife, Mrs. Satan!

In the version at the Gordon Gallery in Nashville, cards, cash, a romantic couple (presumably unwed), alcohol, cigarettes, a bomb, hard drugs, and a church building are on the line. The latter symbolizes the false piety of many churchgoers and the corruption inside institutionalized Christianity.

In The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Vol. 23: Folk Art, Jenifer P. Borum praises Almon’s ability to “mix fire-and-brimstone warnings about the world’s evils with a playful sense of humor”; she refers to the “comic moralism” of his work. My first reaction upon seeing Mr. & Mrs. Satan Fishing was to laugh out loud. But then I wondered whether the humor was intentional. Does the artist want us to chuckle? I haven’t been able to find any statements from Almon. The image likely represents very real temptations that afflicted his community and maybe, some of them, him personally. I suppose the humor could be self-conscious, but if so, it’s a dark humor—gravitas masked in levity. Almon knew that “like a roaring lion [our] adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

Leroy Almon
Leroy Almon on his front stoop in Tallapoosa, Georgia, 1987. Photo: Roger Manley.

LISTEN: “The Devil Ain’t Lazy” by Fred Rose; originally recorded by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, 1947 | Performed by Pokey LaFarge on Pokey LaFarge, 2013

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

He roams around with sticks and stones
Passing out his moans and groans
The devil ain’t no lazy bones
He works 24 hours a day

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

He likes to see us fight and fuss
Makes us mean enough to cuss
Then he blames it all on us
He works 24 hours a day

He travels like a lightning streak
And he strikes from town to town
Then he gets you when you’re weak
He’ll tear your playhouse down

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

He tells us he won’t hurt a fly
Then he makes us steal and lie
Keeps us sinning until we die
He works 24 hours a day

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

Gets his pitchfork out each night
Gives the folks an awful fright
I know he does it just for spite
He works 24 hours a day

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

Tells us how to find success
I know he’ll wind up in distress
I’ll tell ya why: the devil is an awful mess
He works 24 hours a day

He likes to see things scorch and burn
He don’t make no excuse
If he catches you, he’ll turn you
Every way but loose

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

So if you think you’re strong and brave
Smart enough to not behave
You got one foot in the grave
He works 24 hours a day
24 hours a day (Yes, he does!)
He works 24 hours a day
He works 24 hours a day

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