Toilet seat artist, Barney Smith, turned 96 years old on May 25, 2017 (our 32nd wedding anniversary!) and has been creating his unique version of art for over 50 years.
For many years Barney was a master plumber, which is how he came to find inspiration. One day, while on the job, Barney went to a plumbing supply house and happened across about fifty toilet seats that were destined for the garbage. Barney inquired about the seats, saying that he'd like to use them to create some art. The owner told him he couldn't have them without taking the hinges off and disposing of half of the seat there. That was the beginning of something special.
Since then, Barney has decorated 1,324 pieces of toilet lid art (as of our visit on 10/16/17). Eighty-four of those were create since January first of this year!! He didn't start numbering his works of art until number 127 as he was afraid he'd forget in which order they were created.
Barney's creations are more collages than anything with hand lettering and drawing thrown in.Barney's toilet lids hold various objects d'art:plumbing supplies, stained glass, cacti, pictures, marbles, feathers, masks, honeycombs, ties, opera glasses, troll dolls, Pez dispensers, buttons, license plates…Barney's creativity has no bounds!
The subjects of Barney's lids are as varied as the objects he uses to decorate them: history and news events, safety concerns, trips he and his wife took for their anniversaries, television shows, the retirement of his dentist, hornets that stung him on the top of his head, celebrities, his family tree and birthday cards from various birthdays make up just a few of his subjects. Barney's collection has become his life's timeline.
Barney and his wife, Verna, celebrated 74 years of marriage before she passed away in 2013. For many years the couple traveled for their anniversary celebration and those celebrations have been memorialized on toilet lids…starting with about year 60.
Another couple, Tony and Irene, visited at the same time we did. We had such a good time listening to Barney's stories. You'd never have known we'd just met each other. Barney wasn't shy when it came to telling us how he wanted something done and chastising us when we didn't do it right. After being chastised a few times (the two men giggling on the other side of the room), Irene and I quickly learned to allow the guys to be the 'Vanna's'…they weren't snickering quite so much then!
Using a long bamboo pole, Barney pointed out memorable lids even if they weren't in his direct line of sight – he knows where each and every lid resides. Can't say his mind isn't sharp a tack!
Barney adds a personal touch to each lid by having visitors sign lids that pertain to their lives in some way. All four of us were honored to sign 'our' lids – Tony and Irene are retired USMC so they each signed that lid. Michael signed a lid covered in Army field patches, one of which was the 2nd Armored Division (2AD). Michael wore the 2AD patch as his combat patch from 1991 until his retirement in 2012 so it has a very special place in his heart. I signed the lid with the Wisconsin license plate attached and also donated my beloved Wisconsin plate I'd been hanging onto for the last five years.
There's a lot of interest in Barney's art. His museum has been featured on Roadside America, Montel, The Early Show, and The View. His grandson created a Facebook page so that loyal followers could keep up with the busy man.
My personal favorite? A lid containing forks, knives, spoons, and other utensils Barney found in sink traps when he worked as a plumber! I have no idea why it's my favorite but it called to me.
Barney's favorite? It's actually two pieces – one with a 'Garden of Eden' type picture surrounded by paints and brushes and another right below it with a poem entitled 'When Earth's Last Picture is Painted'. These two pieces of art are dedicated to a 12-year-old boy who was asked to write a poem by his teacher. Barney recited the poem word for word as Michael and Tony read along. It may have been the most poignant part of our visit. If you haven't guessed it yet…that 12-year-old boy was Barney.
Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Art Museum is located in San Antonio, Texas. Call 210-824-7791 ahead to make an appointment…don't call too early or you'll wake him up (he says he sleeps late). After 10 or 11 a.m. the day you'd like to visit is probably best as he doesn't know in advance what he might be doing on any given day. When he opens the museum, he is only open from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. (by appointment only) so keep that in mind when you schedule your visit.
Barney wanted me to mention that he wants to sell the museum as he doesn't feel that he can take care of it or show it to visitors much longer as he doesn't get around as well as he used to.If you or anyone you know might be interested in purchasing this treasure you can contact Barney directly (but don't call too early!). It would be a dreadful shame if the museum was closed for good.