Have you ever taken something for granted because it’s close by? We live within walking distance of Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum. It’s one of Alamo City Moms Blog‘s ABCs of summer activities, so I put it on my summer bucket list and promised myself that we would go before school started.
And, we did it! It was even better than we expected. I hope you and your family will make time to go soon, too. You may also come away feeling inspired to explore and create.
Barney Smith is a retired master plumber who decorates toilet seats and hangs them in his (non-air conditioned) garage. But that description really doesn’t do justice to Smith or his creations. Why?
- There are so many of seats. The latest one honors the Red Hat Society. He says he has ten more in progress, including one about popcorn.
- Smith is a good draftsman with a surprisingly steady hand; he makes creative choices about media.
- The subjects are so diverse. Disney Princesses. Marbles. The Holocaust. A little taxidermy thrown in for variety.
- Smith’s creations are part of the fabric of society. Visitors bring artifacts and photos, and Smith turns them into a toilet seat. A series of seats commemorates the annual Fiesta Pooch Parade. Toilet seats adorned with license plates from many states and provinces are covered with visitors’ signatures; the California signatures cover two seats.
Here are some practical tips for planning your visit.
Go soon. Smith is in his nineties. He is active and has a sharp mind, but no one takes anything for granted at that age. His wife passed away earlier this year; they had been married for more than 70 years. (sniff) After he’s gone, his creations will move out of state, according to RoadsideAmerica.com.
Call ahead at 210-824-7791. I called Smith the day before to see what would be a good time. Smith asked me to call ahead a half hour before our appointment so he could wrap up his current project and meet us at the garage.
Finding it. Smith lives in the Cottage District of Alamo Heights at 239 Abiso Ave., San Antonio, TX 78209 (map). His house, a gray-and-white bungalow, is on the corner of Abiso and Arbutus. Turn the corner on Arbutus to find his garage, a corrugated metal box with large swinging doors, and his red pickup parked in the driveway.
Smith does not charge admission, but will accept donations, either in cash or materials, e.g., a toilet seats. (Candice, a new ACMB contributor, is looking forward to seeing her donated seat join the museum.) Be sure to sign the guest book, which includes visitors from all over the world. We signed underneath a family from South Africa. The best gift of all that you can give to Smith is your attention and appreciation.
My kids enjoyed hearing Smith’s stories and were amazed at his handiwork. Many of the seats feature bright colors or recognizable characters that kids will appreciate. But, some of the decorations are fragile, so I kept reminding my kids to keep their hands to themselves.
There are other points of interest in the vicinity. Just a couple of blocks to the east is the Cambridge Elementary playground. This summer, the district installed shadecloth covers over the playscape. The playground open to the public after 3:30 p.m. and on weekends and holidays, but be aware that there is no public restroom.
Across the street from the playground on Broadway is Bird Bakery, a refreshing place to stop for lunch or a sweet snack. Read more: “Bird Bakery”, Denise Richter, San Antonio Tourist, July 31, 2014; “SA Story: Elizabeth Chambers & Armie Hammer”, John Bloodsworth, San Antonio Magazine, July-August 2012.
Two blocks southwest of Smith’s house is the Alamo Heights Community Garden, featuring fruits, veggies, herbs, and new architectural shade structures. “College students to help cover up AH garden”, Edmund Ortiz, San Antonio Express-News, April 9, 2014. A little further, you will find the trailhead for the Judson Nature Trails—learn more in Bridget’s post.
The Toilet Seat Art Museum has a robust online presence. Smith is proud of his Facebook page and enjoys showing visitors a VHS tape of his national media appearances. Also, the museum is a virtual geocaching site.
For us, visiting Smith’s museum was about making the most of our summer—a time to branch out and try new things. Another takeaway: There is an artist in every one of us. I hope that you will also come away from visiting Smith’s museum feeling inspired to create. Maybe toilet seats are not your thing, but you can find lots of ideas from craft blogs; my local favorites are Handmade Mood (featuring ACMB‘s Amanda and Sarah), Morena’s Corner, Maker Mama, and Seven Lovely Things. Once you have a project in mind, check your recycling bin or go to a thrift store to find materials to repurpose. Or, you could plan a Girls’ Night Out at a paint-and-sip studio, such as Painting With a Twist or Pinot’s Palette.
It’s fun to be a tourist in your own city, and I hope you and your family will go visit Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum soon. Perhaps you will develop a new appreciation for toilet seat art, and feel inspired to create your own handmade art.