Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wacky, Wonderful Solomon's Castle

Solomon’s Castle is a medieval-style castle whose façade is made up of discarded aluminum printing plates from the local newspaper down the road in Wauchula, Florida. This castle is something you would expect to see in Disneyworld, not in the Florida countryside. It covers 12,000 square feet and is three stories high. There are over 80 stained glass windows, which are all hand-made by the artist, Howard Solomon. Howard Solomon began building his castle in the Central Florida swamp in 1972. The castle itself serves as an exhibition gallery for hundreds of pieces of Solomon’s artwork. All of his artwork, like the walls of his castle, is made up of discards. His artwork gives new meaning to the expression, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Of course, you follow the yellow brick road to the entrance of the castle.
The “bricks” are painted on poured cement.

On the right side of the castle, there is a balcony in a tower, where Howard Solomon greets his subjects.

You can see the grounds in front of the castle, a stone pony, and a path that leads through the arbor to the Boat in the Moat, a reproduction of a Spanish Galleon built by Howard Solomon, which serves as a restaurant to visitors.

Notice the horse’s hooves. The “Horse of a Different Color” had walked the yellow brick road before the paint dried.

Metal sculpture garden art

Metal sculpture of a bird

Copper lady in the woods

Rooms to Go. This is only the first of many puns to come.

The “Da Vinci of Debris,” Howard Solomon, sits near the entrance to his castle.
He is a wood carver, metal sculptor, author, and master of 22 other trades, including stained-glass maker, plumber, and electrician.

Two men-at-arms stand guard at the castle entrance. Solomon made the suits of armor from a junk pile, painted one black and one white, and called them, “Knight and Day.”

The stained-glass guard-dragon just inside the entrance to the castle.

The English Barrister is made of yellow pine and spruce, and his wig is made of “curly” maple.

Asked where his inspiration comes from, Solomon says, “Junk speaks to me. I look at a piece of junk, and it’ll remind me of something. I’ll say, “That looks like a gear from a locomotive, and it’ll go from there.” Solomon’s creations are made from discarded oil drums, car parts, broken appliances, gas tanks, motors, tin cans--you name any kind of metal part, and it will probably be in one of his pieces of work. People still bring him junk, hoping Solomon might use it in creating a work of art, but at this point, Solomon wishes they would stop.

“The First Flower Child,” a knight made from Volkswagen parts

“Darth Vader,” whose head is made from a Hamilton Beach food processor

A “Quarter-scale Mechanized Antique Steam Engine.” It took Solomon a year to gather the parts for the steam engine. The wheels turn, powered by a Hoover vacuum cleaner.

A motorcycle made from an old-fashioned corn planter and called “Evil Kornevil.” In the background you can see Solomon’s tribute to the artist Modigliani. The three pieces of art are done with bits of wood and wood scraps and have a 3-D effect. Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh and Calder are among other modern artists whose work Solomon emulates and appears on the gallery walls.

The Purple Dragon

A six-foot elephant made from coat hangers. For this coat-hanger art, 50 pounds of coat hangers were cut into pieces as short as two or three inches, welded together to form the object, and painted with white enamel paint.

An eight-foot tall coat-hanger giraffe

The Gun Collection
Among the guns on this wall are: a “hernia gun” because it weighs 60 pounds, and lifting it might cause a hernia; Napoleon’s pistol, with an extra long barrel; a gun that shoots toilet plungers in order to “flush out perpetrators;” a suicide gun that has barrels that bend backward toward the shooter; a gun that fires a fork to get a waiter’s attention; a gun with a square barrel, called a “square shooter;” and a gun made from a jack and a hacksaw, called a “Hacked-off Jack Saw.”

“Weapon of Mouse Destruction”

“The Fish that Got Away”

Mr. and Mrs.

“Picture Yourself on a Sailboat”
This is made possible by the sliver of mirror down the center of the painting.

Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, both clarinet players, become “Woody Goody.”

“I’m all Strung Up Over You”

“Samsonite,” made from an oil drum and so-named because his mother was a piece of luggage.

“Lional,” made of five oil drums and 70 pounds of welding rod. He weighs 190 pounds. The bat lying at his feet is a “Lion’s Club.” (I warned you about the puns, didn’t I?) Behind the lion are three Solomon-type salutes to the artwork of Vincent Van Gogh.

“Jeb the Bushman,” done in 2000 after the election for the governorship of Florida. It is made of 7 oil drums and took 300 hours to construct. His toenails are clam shells, and his tusks are manatee ribs.

“Foolish Pleasure,” made from an oil drum with a chain tail and mane. The horse was Florida-born and won the Kentucky Derby in 1975.

Can you spot Michael Jordan in his Fruit of the Loom (?) underwear, dancing with the Spice Girls? The Morton Salt girl is on the top shelf, along with “Tomcat with a Heart On.”

The “Chinese Fire Hydrant” has a sword in its hands to ward off dogs.

“Cleopatra in Denial” is one of the names given to this sculpture. Denial? Think about the river where Cleo sailed her barge.

A 3-D tribute to Norman Rockwell, “100 Years of Baseball.”

“Elsie the Cow” has holes in her because she gives “whole” milk.

“Cleopatra’s Barge”

A “Car with a V-8 Engine”

The V-8 Engine

Above “Ethel Mer-man” is a spaceship and a “Chiggle,” part chicken and part eagle.

Ethel Mer-man is one-half man, one-half woman, and one-half fish. (Mr. Solomon said this, and it sounded OK until I thought about it.)

Robert on the ramp way leading to The Boat in a Moat. The “Boat in the Moat,” a sixty-foot replica of a 16th century Spanish galleon, serves as the Castle’s restaurant.

The ramp way over the moat

The Boat in a Moat
“The Band Broke Up”
This artwork is in a building with a façade resembling the entrance to the Alamo. It is called the “Ala-schmoe” and stores some of Howard Solomon’s original work. We were lucky enough to have a private tour of this building by Mr. Solomon himself.

“Pop Art,” utilizing pop tops from 700 soda cans

A floor lamp designed by Solomon. What other shape would be more fitting than a castle tower?

“Jake La Motta,” the Raging Bull

Woman with Raised Arm

When I walked into the gallery of Solomon’s Castle, I was overwhelmed looking at all this crazy artwork that combined pieces of junk in all manner of ways in order to create a recognizable object. Howard Solomon’s sense of humor is evident in all he does, especially in the very punny titles he gives to his creations. Solomon explains his creativity by saying that he was born an artist. He is not only an artist, but an artisan as well, because he has the skill to construct what he imagines. And what an imagination this man has! Solomon doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously, either. He makes himself available to visitors and talks about himself and his work in a very unassuming way. Solomon’s artistry has been celebrated nationally and even internationally, but he seems happy to introduce his art to visiting tourists. A real artist doesn’t have to “act” like an artist to leave people in awe of his ability, and that’s how I felt about Solomon by the time I left.

If you want to visit Solomon’s Castle:

Solomon’s Castle is in Ona, Florida. The address is 4533 Solomon Rd, Ona, FL 33865. It is located one and a half hours south of Tampa, two hours north of Fort Myers, and one hour east of Sarasota. It is not far from Arcadia. It seems as if you are driving in the middle of nowhere, but keep going, you'll get there eventually. Whatever way you go, do NOT travel on Lily Ave., which becomes Pine Level Road, no matter what Mapquest or your GPS says. It may look like the shortest way, but there is a 2-mile stretch of a bone-jarring gravel road that you want to avoid at all costs. Call if you get lost: (863) 494-6077 . The castle is closed on Mondays and also closed July, August, & September. For more information, look up the web site:


  1. I met Howard many years ago and found out right away that he is a magically unique creative poet and craftsman combining out of this world art and humanity in a most original manner.

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