When Peggy Solomon introduces a museum tour of works by her artist husband, Howard Solomon, she praises him as the "da Vinci of debris, the Rembrandt of reclamation, the wizard of odds and ends, the savior of salvage."
Such lofty comparisons aren't typically bestowed on those who work with oil drums, coat hangers and household appliances, among the raw materials transformed into the kitschy sculptures and paintings of Solomon's Castle, one of Florida's enduring, quirky tourist stops. The attraction sits in a swamp in rural Ona, about 35 miles east of Bradenton.
Solomon's Castle (solomonscastle.org) is a triumph of whimsy, a glittering tower of imagination that has combined funky folk art with unexpected examples of beauty since 1972.
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4533 Solomon Road, Ona, FL 33865, USA
The beauty is showcased in the castle's silvery exterior, created from a layer of aluminum printing plates discarded from a local newspaper. A closer look reveals more than 90 stained-glass windows also made by Solomon, who greeted me when I arrived. In the tower, the images represent the planets of the solar system, arranged in order according to their distance from the sun.
Around another corner, more colorful glass depicts scenes from familiar nursery rhymes. In the couple's kitchen (the Solomons' living quarters also are part of the tour), the stained-glass art offers tribute to the Four Virtues of wisdom, truth, knowledge and generosity.
The pretty stuff balances the quirky humor that rules in the museum, where it's apparent that Solomon also could be introduced as a "purveyor of puns."
Inside the museum's entrance is a box containing a "mummified mermaid," which Peggy introduces from her husband's script as "too much fish to eat and not enough woman to love." The box sits next to a Darth Vader statue made out of a discarded food processor.
Other highlights on the 45-minute tour ($10) include a menagerie of 50 pounds of coat hangers twisted into the shapes of a giraffe, unicorn and other creatures as well as a steam locomotive made of a lamp shade, trumpet valve, copy machine canister and a car shock absorber.
Lunch is served in the galley of the enormous Boat in the Moat restaurant. I'm assured that the menu items aren't made of leftovers, unlike pretty much all the art.