Margaret and I just returned from a great driving trip to Texas; Austin, Fredericksburg, San Antonio. Those cities make up a geographic triangle all within an hour and a half of one another. If you haven’t traveled to this area we highly recommend it…lots to do and see.
As is the case with most of our travels we try to do and see the things of particular interest to us, which are not always the usual tourist attractions. We seek out restaurants the locals frequent, the museums off the beaten path, and attractions suggested by one of our favorite travel guides, Roadside America, “Your Online Guide to Offbeat Tourist Attractions”. Our visit to San Antonio brought us to one of our favorite attractions to date, the Toilet Seat Art Museum.
Barney Smith is a 93 year ‘young’ retired plumber turned toilet seat artist. To visit his museum, which is housed in his garage off a quiet residential street, all you need do is call and he’ll gladly open up. When Margaret made the call I was thinking there’s no way this old man would pick up the phone and invite us over at 4:00 in the afternoon. But he immediately picked up, Margaret introduced herself and Barney said come on by…just like he’d been waiting for our call all day. We arrived a few minutes early waiting for Barney to open. Minutes later here he comes out the back door of his home, hunched over his walker barely able to walk the few steps to his garage/museum. I’m thinking we’re going to be dealing with some senile old man who will just sit there while we spend five minutes looking at his ‘art’. Boy was I wrong!
As soon as Barney unfolded the two big aluminum garage doors he lit up like a fourth of July sparkler. We immediately noticed the toilet seats with the license plate motif and pointed out we were from Georgia. Barney went into an explanation of who gave him that plate, who was the last person from Georgia to visit and who had signed the back of the seat (as we had the pleasure to do). When Margaret mentioned that we were cyclists he showed us a toilet seat with a ‘cycler’ theme and explained its origins and again who had signed (which he insisted we do too). As the tour continued he came to a seat he said had come from one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces brought back by Barney’s neighbor who was involved with the invasion of Iraq. It had photos of American soldiers along with other artifacts. I’m thinking “right, that seat came all the way from Iraq”. Well, not ten minutes later a man walks in, introduces himself and informs us he’s the soldier who brought that seat back for Barney. He said he went into that palace, saw the toilet seat and knew it would be coming back to San Antonio for his friend.
I can go on and on about the hundreds of toilet seats, Barney’s collage art which adorns them along with his intricate carvings, his notoriety from interviews on The View, Montel, numerous local news shows along with scores of magazine articles. But what most amazed us was Barney’s continued love of life at the age of 93 (94 this month). He’s obviously lived his life with much passion, probably for his work, his art, his family. While most of us would be content to sit in a chair watching reruns, here was a man who wakes up every morning with a passion for life….I can only think this is what has kept him living so vibrantly well into his nineties. We can all take his life as an example of how to live; the simple, unromantic toilet seat has kept his passion for living strong…whatever it takes!
Here’s a short movie of Barney’s museum (I’m no videographer…sorry if it makes you dizzy); https://vimeo.com/126797956