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96-Year-Old Barney Smith and His Toilet Seat Art Museum

Picture of Elizabeth Nicholas
Updated: 8 January 2018

96-year old Barney Smith is the owner of one of the most unusual museums in the world – one dedicated to toilet seat art.

Before he became an artist, museum owner and operator, the Texas native was a plumber, which goes at least part of the way towards explaining why he decided to open a museum dedicated to this particular facet of his former tradecraft in San Antonio, Texas.

The other inspiration? Walls of taxidermy mounts his father once made – Smith’s first creation was a toilet seat adorned with a pair of antlers. Smith’s first cache of materials were fifty toilet seats a client on a plumbing job was planning to throw away – Smith asked if he could have them instead, and an artist was born.

Smith recently decided to put his museum up for sale. He had originally promised his wife he would stop producing new pieces when he hit 500, but he blew by that milestone quickly, and his museum now features over 1,300 pieces of toilet seat art.

Visitors come from all over the world, and Smith has incorporated the mementos they have brought him into his pieces, with souvenirs coming from far-flung countries such as Israel, Brazil, Greece and Japan, among many others.

Smith keeps extensive records, and says he receives over 1,000 visitors each year. Many rave about Smith’s work. “There’s all of this detail captured on a toilet seat,” a visitor from Los Angeles told Atlas Obscura. “I never expected it to be this phenomenal.”

A wide array of historical memorabilia is scattered on Smith’s toilet seats. Among them, a piece of debris from the doomed Challenger space shuttle, a seat from Aristotle Onassis’ private plane, and another from Saddam Hussein’s palace.

His age has prompted Smith to sell to the museum, but he is insistent it go to a buyer who will keep the museum and collection intact, rather than selling it piecemeal. Time to start packing your bags for a visit.