Retired Plumber Searches for New Home for Toilet Seat Art Collection

Over the course of 50 years, Barney Smith has built a one-of-a-kind collection of 1,350 decorated toilet seats

Retired Plumber Searches for New Home for Toilet Seat Art Collection

For decades, Barney Smith's collection has been housed in a two-room garage on his property near San Antonio. It will soon be moving to a new home near Dallas. (Photo from Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Art Museum Facebook page)

Retired plumber Barney Smith has spent a half-century amassing an expansive collection of decorated toilet seats.

The collection numbers 1,350 to date, all the toilet seats displayed in a two-room corrugated metal garage on his Alamo Heights, Texas, property near San Antonio. Found object assemblage, collage, hand lettering, and drawing are combined to create Smith’s works of toilet seat art, and most have some sort of special significance — some drawing from an aspect of Smith’s personal life, others giving a nod to certain moments in history. There’s a toilet seat decorated with a chunk of the Berlin Wall. Another one has a piece of insulation from the doomed Space Shuttle Challenger.

When some local media coverage garnered Smith public attention in 1992, he opened up his collection as a museum, and since then has been available to interested visitors for tours and the stories behind his various pieces of toilet seat art. But at age 97, Smith is finally ready to move on from his work of the last 50 years.

Barney Smith
Barney Smith

“I come out here with a cane. I’ve gotta hold onto everything to walk. I’m beginning to feel like that I’d rather be in an air-conditioned home in a chair, looking at a good program,” he said in a recent story by the Associated Press.

Whatever ends up happening to his toilet seat art collection, Smith wants to ensure that it remains intact. The hope of his family and other supporters is that a new book about Smith and his museum can bring on even more public attention in order to attract an appropriate buyer for the unique collection.

Cattywampus Press raised money through a Kickstarter campaign to produce the full-color, cloth-bound volume titled King of the Commode: Barney Smith & His Toilet Seat Art Museum. A book release party was held Saturday, coinciding closely with Smith’s 97th birthday just the day before. 

Smith has been artistically inclined since he was a child and art has been a lifelong hobby, but being born into a family of plumbers, he naturally found his way into the trade. It was while picking up parts at a supply house one day that he came across about 50 defective toilet seats that were going to be thrown out. It dawned on him that a toilet seat could make for a good art canvas. He saved the toilet seats from the dumpster and his art collection began. 

One of Smith’s first toilet seats was adorned with antlers. Another of his inspirations had been the fact that his father often made wooden shields to serve as hunting mounts. Smith figured a toilet seat could serve the same purpose just as well. More than 1,300 toilet seats later, Smith’s final creation might be one he is working on currently that commemorates the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea. And hopefully the right buyer for the collection won’t be too far into the future as well. 

“I want all 1,350 to be intact in another museum somewhere. It’s not the highest bidder. It’s not being raffled off,” Smith told the Associated Press.

Sources: Associated PressRoadsideAmerica.comAtlas


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