Quirky Attraction: The Toilet Seat Art Museum

barney-smith-art-museum

Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum

Location: San Antonio, Texas (239 Abiso Ave.)
When to visit: Open by appointment – call Barney at 210.824.7791
Cost: Free
Time needed to enjoy: 45-60 minutes
Website: Museum’s Facebook page

These days, people create modern art from all sorts of strange objects (hello, Magic Gardens!), but several decades ago when Barney Smith started created his own unique plaques by affixing objects to toilet seats, he was definitely thinking outside the box.

That’s right – toilet seats. More than thirty years later, Barney now has a collection of more than 1,100 pieces at his Toilet Seat Art Museum in San Antonio. He’s 92 years old and still eagerly greets visitors who want to see one of the most unique art collections in America.

The bulk of his art is composed of random objects stuck to toilet seats. They commemorate pop culture trends, sports teams, historic events, basic household products, and everything else you can possibly think of. Check out the range of seats on display. My favorite is the OJ Simpson glove seat:

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toilet-seat-art-museum-1

Barney’s museum has been featured on Good Morning America, Montel Williams, The Tonight Show, CBS This Morning, The View, and many other tv outlets. Of course, each show he’s visited has its own piece of artwork in the museum. I bet Babs Walters never thought she’d see her face on a toilet seat!

the-view-toilet-seat

The amazing thing about Barney’s museum is that, in addition to the quirky aspect of the homemade toilet art, there’s real history here, including a piece of the Challenger shuttle, a million dollars of shredded cash, and a portion of Saddam Hussein’s toilet from his Iraq bunker.

By now, most everybody in San Antonio knows Barney, so people bring him souvenirs he can use on his toilets. That’s how he came into possession of this flushing device from Saddam Hussein’s commode. A former Navy commander visited Hussein’s underground bunker in 2004 and brought back a portion of the ceramic toilet just for Barney.

saddam-hussein-toilet-seat

That’s also how Barney came to acquire a piece of insulation from the Challenger shuttle, which exploded on takeoff in 1986. A friend of his happened to be in Florida at the time and picked up a chunk of the wreckage that fell to earth. It ended up in Barney’s hands, and he proceeded to create one of his toilet plaques to commemorate the event.

I don’t know many other museums where you can touch a real piece of the Challenger. Talk about an impressive piece of history!

challenger-shuttle-toilet-s

Here’s a toilet seat with one million dollars of shredded cash, as donated by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Antonio. (Would you be tempted to try to put it back together?)

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Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980 in Washington. Leave it to Barney to get his hands on some volcanic ash from the blast, which he rubbed into the background of this St. Helens seat.

mount-st-helens-toilet-seat

Here’s the toilet seat that truly tells you how dedicated Barney is to this whole endeavor. Years ago when his wife went in for gallstone surgery, he decided to keep her IVs and fluid bags and put them on display. How many people can say their spouse created a “surgery toilet seat” just for them?

surgery-toilet-seat

Here’s Barney with a “My Alma Mater” graduation seat from Lee University

lee-university-toilet-seat

To visit Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum, call the man at 210.824.7791 and he’ll come out to meet you at the museum, which is in his garage behind the house. Expect Barney to keep you for around an hour, and that’s a good thing – he’s excited to show you all the seats, especially the ones relevant to you. He has toilet seats for each state and most countries, and you’ll be asked to autograph the ones that represent you.

Here’s Felip and me posing with the Illinois toilet seat we signed.

illinois toilet seat

Each seat is individually numbered and tracked in a detailed notebook that serves as a record of his toilet seats and a visitor log. Barney says each seat can take about 20 hours to finish, depending on its complexity. There’s a story behind each seat, and he’ll be happy to tell you each tale if you want to hear it. The most recent seat he created was the one for his and his wife’s 74th wedding anniversary.

The Guinness company contacted Barney about the possibility of featuring him in its book of world records, but he declined because the process (filling out forms, getting them notarized, etc.) was too much of a hassle.

Barney doesn’t sell any of his art. It’s all just a fun hobby. He does have plans for his collection once he’s gone – Barney says that Bemis, the toilet seat manufacturer in Wisconsin, has expressed interest in displaying his seats there eventually.

You can find the Barney Smith Museum online. “I don’t have a computer, but I have a Facebook page,” he brags. Find his page here.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

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