As It Happens

Barney Smith — creator of the Toilet Seat Art Museum — dies at 98

The so-called "King of the Commode" who curated the Toilet Seat Art Museum in San Antonio died on Tuesday. He was 98.

In 2017, the 'King of the Commode' told CBC Radio he was 'gettin' ready to leave this whole world'

Barney Smith stands next to his exhibit of toilet seats on July 7, 2006, in San Antonio. The so-called King of the Commode has died at the age of 98. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News/AP)

Two years ago, Texas toilet seat artist Barney Smith told CBC Radio he was "gettin' ready to leave this whole world." And now he has.

Smith — the so-called "King of the Commode" who ran the Toilet Seat Art Museum in San Antonio — died on Tuesday. He was 98.

His family announced the news on Facebook along with the Rudyard Kipling poem When Earth's Last Picture Is Painted.

"It was given to him to recite as a child, and he never forgot it, and he would tell it to people that got the chance to visit his museum when it was still in San Antonio," the post reads. "He will be missed."

A Facebook message announces Smith's death. (Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Art Museum - Legacy Page/Facebook )

In October 2017, Smith spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about his plans to auction off his 1,322 toilet seats, each of which he'd meticulously decorated by hand.

"I'm glad to talk to you about my toilet seat collection," he said. "I tell ya, it won't be long 'till be gone."

Listen to the full interview here: 

Over the course of 50 years, the retired master plumber, electrician and minister created seats in just about every theme you can think of — all catalogued in his book King of the Commode. 

There was one that featured Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, one that was covered entirely in Pokémon trading cards, one bedazzled with Star Wars figurines.

Five of the seats featured Canadian license plates, including British Columbia, Alberta and Yukon.

Smith created 1,322 decorated toilet seats over the course of 50 years. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News/AP)

He even adorned a toilet seat with the Kipling poem he was so fond of: 

"When Earth's last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,/ When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,/We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it — lie down for an aeon or two,/Till the Master of All Good Workmen Shall put us to work anew."

Others documented memories from his own life —  including a scene from his 74th wedding anniversary with his wife, and a wasps' nest to commemorate the time he was stung on the forehead.

During his interview with Off, Smith referred to his toilet seats as "plaques" and insisted nobody should ever try to use them for their original purpose. 

"You may fall through the toilet if you sit on a plaque," he said. "They've got their hinges off."

Smith's art lives on after his death. His collection was purchased at auction by Jason Boso to be displayed at the Truck Yard restaurant in The Colony, a city just north of Dallas. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Original interview with Barney Smith produced by Chris Harbord.

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