Toilet Seats as Scrapbooks?

You don’t have to look hard to find life moments to commemorate: the color of autumn leaves, a collection of your children’s beloved toys, the leftover hair at the neighborhood Super Cuts.

Now: how to display these mementos? Some are flat and some are dimensional. Why a toilet seat lid, of course! It’s the most obvious of all display choices.

Barney Smith of Alamo Heights Texas (a San Antonio neighborhood), has been capturing his life, America’s, and even that of his visitors’, on the canvas of toilet seats for over 50 years. His work is surprising, sentimental, silly. And you’d better come visit quick, because at age 91 and a groom of 73 years, this museum surely has a limited time span. His daughter promises to keep it open for display, but the joy comes from him curating the collection, with vivid memory and stunning detail.

Why Toilet Seats?

Really, Why Not? What’s special about canvas, or a journal, or a scrapbook, or marble…that’s rather odd if you think about it. Mosaics on the floor–where people will walk on your work?

The truth: Barney was a master plumber, so toilet seats abound-ed. And he had a small pair of deer antlers that needed mounting. Looking for a plaque upon which to affix them, his eyes set on the toilet seat, and history began.

antlers

That was 50 years and 1,034 toilet seats ago–and he’s still going. He etches the number into the back side to keep track. As for the seat itself (vs the lid), not so many are used, but he’ll wrap a t-shirt or fabric around those and then adorn as needed. The seats are donated by a local hardware store.

The first official “decorative” seat after the antlers was dog tags–animal, not military. They had a beloved dog and therein lies inspiration.

first

A Garage Full

A handmade sign outside says, “Toilet Seat Museum: free to the public; call for appointment.” Well, I did, and three hours later I knew more about crafts and this man’s well-lived life than I ever expected.

so many

They hang on the walls and from the ceiling; they’re on display easels so multiple can be seen from either side, layered top to bottom. 1,034. It’s a life’s work, commemorating his life’s experiences.

I was touched by his sentimentality. Birthdays and anniversaries. Vacations and historic events. Honoring the military and professional trades. Whimsy and hobbies. Growing old and staying young. He’s captured his life and then references those who he’s met through this dimensional medium. He has pictures and keys, etchings that are amazing, toys and a colonoscopy bag. A self-declared packrat, he’s also captured his family’s history, and how the world’s history impacts them.

It’s truly beautiful. We should all be so lucky as to have a family historian, no matter the medium.

Click the pic to advance the slideshow.

These are my favorites: bar codes and swizzle sticks!

faves

Art Never Stops

Barney was working on a piece the day I came to visit. He seals the etchings with melted communion cups; the rest with a lacquer of some kind. And he must wear a butcher’s apron–no paint on his clothes! Tracing paper transfers his intricate drawings onto the seats, which he then carves with a drill. The whole process takes 20 hours per seat.

working

barney

He’s a charming chatter. Knows every detail about the seats, who signed them, when, the inspiration, where he got the pieces used on them. It’s his life displayed in his life’s work. Wouldn’t you know every detail, too?

Preparation for Inspiration

Whenever the mood or muse strikes, he’s ready.

supplies

Existing seats include: pill bottles, art from when he was in camp, shows he and his wife went to–signed by the cast, film canisters and a camera, rattlesnake rattles, matchbooks, business cards, feathers, trophies, arrowheads, coral, silverware that he removed from sinks while a plumber, can openers, his own scouting badges, jewelry, perfume bottles, his mother’s crochet needles, lawnmower parts… .

Involving the Community

He’s got license plates from all 50 states and most Canadian territories. Add a few countries here and there, Vietnam vets, Masons, Girl Scouts, you name it, he’s got a seat for the club. And folks sign their name, proud to belong and proud to have been there. The pooch parade, a race, and a geocaching club all come by his house–for 10+ years he’s made a seat for each, and participants sign. Wouldn’t you?

paula

guest books

Barney Smith is preserving his family and community history, just in a slightly off-kilter way. But aren’t we all off-kilter? His work has whimsy and love. Talent and honor. People send him items to include on future seats. Military men–homeland security, even–send him patches and information to incorporate. There’s pride in being noticed and in being part of a group–no matter how small or obscure. We want to be represented. Barney understands that. He tributes his family by remembering the toys each child played with. He adores his wife with odes to his love and their life. He glories his mother with homage to her talents and craftsmanship.

No matter the medium, don’t we all want someone to do that for us?

***

How do you protect and showcase family history?
If it’s not you, who in your family does it?

10 Responses

When I began reading this I was reminded of a painted toilet seat I once got as a gift. It had a fancy woman on the top and when you lifted up the seat it said “It’s so nice to have a man around the house.” I enjoyed that for some time.

But as I continued reading and looking at the photos I felt so moved by what this man has accomplished out of love for his family, his art, his life and those of others that tears came to my eyes. A life well lived – and shared. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Karen- love your seat, and your sentimentality

12.26.12

Remarkable! Truly fascinating. And not only did he capture and save information and memories, but he’s an artist in multiple forms. A terrific post. Great photo, but did you do the artistic work on the seat you’re holding or did he? More information, please! Did he just happen to have a license plate from your county as well as state?

When it comes to researching and following through on the unusual, you ARE a master! Thank you for a fascinating and touching read.

Raye- he did the art. Or someone else did. He had an Israeli license plate and I commented on it; he got excited that I cSn write in Hebrew, and then I was signing it.

Raye- yes, he already had that license plate. It’s full on the front and half the back w Georgians who’ve visited.

12.26.12

Wow, wow! Love that he does it and love that you went!

He reminds me of my Dad, a retired public school art teacher who volunteered and started a sculpture program for the blind at a local community arts center, but when he wasn’t there, he spent hours in his “room” creating collages for every occasion and anything he wanted to memorialize. He was also the “go to” sign painter for school fairs and neighborhood events. For every family occasion, he made an appropriate sign to reflect the age and person of the celebrant. We lost him in June of 2011, but whenever I drive through my parents’ old neighborhood, here and there, I still see remnants of his handiwork.
Just One Boomer (Suzanne) recently posted..How to Visit London Without Breaking the BankMy Profile

Suzanne- how lovely to contribute that way

12.26.12

Can you imagine forgetting to lift the seat with antlers in the middle of thr night?

12.26.12

January 17th…front page of the Wall Street Journal is an article on Toilet Lid Artist! Great article…but I read about it FIRST on your blog! And you included wonderful photos. Keep on informing us!

.http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324235104578243853951606038.html?mod=WSJ_hp_EditorsPicks..

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