Combining imagination, a craftsman’s skills, a knack for repurposing and a unique sense of humor, internationally known sculptor Howard Solomon has fabricated a glittering kingdom entirely from discards in central Florida.
Once dubbed “The DaVinci of Debris,” the avant-gardist has brought to life the saying, “A man’s home is his castle.”
Solomon’s Castle houses Howard’s workshop, galleries, exhibition areas and four generations of his family.
Discovering the wonders of Solomon’s Castle requires driving a stretch of country road where sightseeing is limited to wild turkeys, boars and feisty roosters crossing the road. As one nears Ona, visitors are greeted by a hand-painted sign.
A towering three-story castle magically pops up from a swampy landscape.
Built entirely by hand, the 12,000- square-foot construction is a work in progress. Almost blinding in the sun, the castle walls are covered with aluminum printing plates discarded by the weekly newspaper and punctuated by Howard’s 90 original stained glass windows and a turret with a balcony.
Lauded as an intriguing tourist destination, the castle has been showcased on CNN, “Extreme Homes,” and in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Destined to be amusing, Howard was born in Rochester, New York. He credits his father, a truck driver, for his quirky, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.
“The first time my father looked at me he laughed,” Howard says.
This passed-down sense of humor, droll and brimming with puns, is reflected in Howard’s art and conversation.
Howard’s artistic side came to life after a tour in the Army. He found his way to Florida and started working in construction, running a cabinet shop in Largo for seven years. In 1965, he moved his family to the Bahamas, establishing a showroom and working studio in Freeport.
During his Bahamian period, he designed props for movies and television commercials for Westinghouse, Ford Motor Co., Warner Bros.-Seven Arts and Paramount. He also planned many unique interiors, often using driftwood that was so abundant on the island.
While in the Bahamas, Howard became friends with an Italian artist who prompted his return to central Florida. His friend, who had discovered Wauchula while driving south on his honeymoon, told Howard, “Come take a look. It’s like stepping back in time 20 years.”
A curious Howard took more than a look. In 1971, he moved his family and three semi-trailers of artwork and equipment to Wauchula and began looking for a homestead. He found the property he had been seeking in 1972 near Ona.
He bought 40 acres of swampland, with Horse Creek—which furnishes 15 percent of the water to the Peace River—running through it. Howard moved in a double-wide for the family’s temporary living quarters and began building his home.
Due to the wet land, he realized building “up” instead of “out” was the way to go.
Thus began his castle-style structure.
He started with the center part, which became his workshop. This area is now the castle visitor entrance and a gift shop.
After seven years, enough of the living quarters were completed to move in the family, which still resides in the castle.
Howard works with his wife, Peggy, whom he refers to as “plant manager and tour guide,” and most of his multi-generational family, who play an integral role in creating and maintaining his vision.
His daughter, Alana, also an artist, runs the gift shop and adjacent restaurant, The Boat in the Moat—a 60-foot replica of a 16th-century Spanish galleon Howard built in the moat surrounding the castle.
He replicated the Texas Alamo in 2007 and jokes, “Now, people don’t have to travel all the way to Texas to see it.”
The main floor is public gallery space for Howard’s creations, which include hundreds of sculptures. Like his construction materials, all of his sculpting materials are “found objects” or derived from scrap: oil drums, discarded nuts and bolts, sheet metal, bones, wire, beer cans, glass, shells and more. Much of the wood he uses is left over from ladders built for the Florida citrus industry.
His creative methods are as diverse as his materials—painting, welding, woodworking and wood turning—and humor abounds in every piece of his work.
“Evil Kornevil” is a motorcycle formed from gears, sprockets and automotive parts. “Jeb the Bushman” is an elephant sculpture created from seven oil drums, tusks of manatee ribs and clam shells for toenails. “Flight of the Bumble Bee” incorporates tuna fish cans. “Knight and Day” are a pair of guards in silver and black armor on either side of the castle entrance. Howard has used 50,000 coat hangers for “The Menagerie,” an entire room of wired animal-shaped sculptures.
His montages—framed pieces with relief work that really reaches out—are crafted from wood and scattered throughout the galleries.
Now 76, a lively and energetic Howard continues construction on his property, which has grown into a 90-acre parcel. He is building more storage space for his growing collection of vintage automobiles.
“I don’t let one day get away without some progress—even down to driving just a nail,” Howard says. “At the end of a year it all adds up.”