Bowl Plaza: America's Most Artistic Giant Toilet
Despite appearances, the giant, gaudy toilet in Lucas, Kansas, began as a practical necessity. The little farm town of Lucas (pop. 400) attracts thousands of visitors every year to its Grassroots Art Center and Garden of Eden, but offered no public restrooms. And because the town is known for its outsider art, its artists decided to build a bathroom like no other.
"You can imagine, in a small town, how much trouble we had," said Rosslyn Schultz, director of the Art Center, recalling the cool reception that greeted the proposal of a Giant Toilet. "Some people said it was just the worst idea ever. They said, 'We are not having a big toilet on Main Street!' But when they saw the mosaic lid for the first time they said, 'Oh. This is going to look really nice.'"
The lid, 14 feet high, is mortared into the front of the giant toilet tank, which contains the restrooms. Outside are two half-circle benches, forming the rim of the bowl, and between them is an artwork of swirly water, filled with ceramic versions of all the unexpected things that can end up in a toilet: smartphones, eyeglasses, paperback books, a goldfish. A small dog stands at the water's edge, drinking from the bowl; Rosslyn said its name, chosen from hundreds of suggestions, is Beauregard Flushmeister.
Elaborate mosaics cover the interior walls. The men's room is embedded with toy cars, robots, and doughnuts. The women's room has tiny glass flowers, kittens, and teacups. The gender division, Rosslyn said, is artistic only; all visitors are welcome in both bathrooms. "They're galleries for looking at art," said Rosslyn. "And both rooms do have seats."
Prominently displayed between the men's and women's rooms: the toilet's Runner Up plaque from the 2014 "America's Best Restroom" contest. Rosslyn still feels that Bowl Plaza was better than the bathroom that won. "The restroom with the most public votes won the contest," she explained, "and the winner [Longwood Gardens outside of Philadelphia] has a million visitors a year!" Their bathrooms, Rosslyn said, had foliage on the outside, "but the insides were plain, bare bones." She lowered her voice. "They weren't artful."
The contest organizers, said Rosslyn, "did send us a letter saying that they had never seen so much enthusiasm for a toilet. So that made us feel good."
Despite the community's initial misgivings, the citizens of Lucas contributed significantly to the success of Bowl Plaza. Rosslyn praised the townspeople who donated personal items for the mosaics, and the volunteers who mortared countless pieces ("Millions," was Rosslyn's estimate) of bric-a-brac into the artworks, and even the concrete contractors who figured out a way to turn slabs of normal cement into a giant unspooling roll of toilet paper.
"If you've got a good idea, you've got to go forward and hope everyone else comes along," said Rosslyn. "When reality slapped us in the face, we just tried the impossible."