SAN ANTONIO – After 20-plus years of opening the garage doors to San Antonio’s world-famous Toilet Seat Art Museum, owner and artist Barney Smith is now putting it up for sale.
At 96 years of age, Smith said along with his 1,306 toilet seat lid covers that hang on the walls, he also has on display the cards received for the birthdays he's celebrated since starting the museum.
“I’ve got 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, and I’m hoping that the Lord will let scoot over that bagpiper and put a 97 plaque down there on the floor (of the museum),” Smith said.
A retired master plumber, Smith said he began his hobby more than 50 years ago but didn’t start opening the doors to his makeshift museum out of his garage until 1992.
“This is my life’s work for 53 years (and) I’ve got a story behind everything that’s hanging,” Smith said.
Just about every toilet seat lid has a piece history everything from a piece of the Berlin Wall to a piece of NASA’s space shuttle Challenger, to even a piece of Saddam Hussein’s toilet.
Smith said the inspiration behind his artwork began when he visited a local plumbing supply store decades ago and noticed a bunch of toilet seats piled up near the store’s receiving area.
The employees told him they were going to eventually throw the seats away but after much convincing, Smith left the store with about 50 or so free toilet seats in hand.
“After I do the artwork and everything on the toilet seat, well then I give it a number and hang it up,” Smith said.
Several years after and hundreds of decorated toilet seats later, Smith’s artwork even gained nationwide attention when he received calls to appear on several high-profile shows such as "The View" and "The Montel Williams Show" during the late '90s.
And if you might have missed those shows, don’t you worry, Smith has the tapes and runs them each time he opens the doors to his visitors.
Despite the thousands of people from all over the world who visit the museum each year, Smith said it might be time to let it go and retire.
“I’m getting so old, I cannot open (the doors) to the public and I cannot stay out here very long in the heat,” Smith said.
Carye Bye, a Toilet Seat Museum volunteer, said she’s been helping Smith open the museum to the public since 2014 and shares the uncertainty with others about the museum’s future.
“He’s to the point where he knows he needs (the museum) to find a new home for it but doesn’t know what (or where) that is,” Bye said.
Smith said he hopes the museum stays in San Antonio, or better yet in the Alamo Heights area where it has resided for decades but he's open to any outside bidders who wish to keep it as a museum.
“I hope somebody will take it off my hands and leave it up as a museum,” Smith said.
Before permanently closing the doors to his museum, Smith said he hopes one of the San Antonio Spurs players will take the time to visit and sign one of the many Spurs-themed toilet seat lids.
When asked which Spur he’d prefer to come visit, Smith said, “If someone will tell Sean Elliott that I have him on a toilet seat, he may run the other direction.”
“Don’t tell him (Elliott) I got him on a toilet seat, just tell him, ‘Barney Smith has a plaque with Sean Elliott on it and he wants you to come and sign it,’” Smith said.