I’d be willing to bet no one else in Central Texas decorates quite the way Juan and Carolyn Smith Salazar do. You might find the decor inside their southeastern Travis County home a bit puzzling.
The Salazars have spruced up their living room with a huge, framed, 5-foot-by-14½-foot jigsaw puzzle.
We’re talking a jigsaw puzzle made up of 24,000 pieces.
That’s a big ’un, all right. At nearly 15 feet wide, that’s closing in on half a first down in a football game. There are bass boats that aren’t much longer than this puzzle.
Usually, when you run across a jigsaw puzzle, it’s taking up space on a dining room table. But this one, attached to pink insulation foam, and framed with door molding, covers most of the wall above the Salazars’ living room couch and piano. The artwork, or perhaps I should say this thing, takes over the room. You can’t miss it.
The colorful puzzle has more stuff in it than a Waldorf salad.
“It’s really busy,” Juan said. “On the left side on the bottom, you’ve got like ocean water. You’ve got elephants and zebras and all these animals you see in Africa. And you’ve got all these balloons and all these planets. And on top of that you see the top of the ocean and 10 or 15 sailboats up there.”
Juan, who has a mobile notary business, did most of the work putting the puzzle together, although he had a little help from Carolyn’s twin sons, James and John, 28, a couple of computer geeks.
“And every now and then when family and friends would come to visit, they’d do a few pieces,” Carolyn said.
It took Juan a year and a half to assemble the puzzle. Who says notaries don’t know how to party? Juan says he spent “oh, on average, four or five hours a day” messing with it. Any time out for weekends? Apparently not much. “I think it was generally every day,” Carolyn said. “A little here, a little there.”
Doing the math, that means Juan worked about 2,500 hours on the puzzle. Seems like you could find a cure for, say, chicken flu in that amount of time.
“The longest stretch? Oh, I’d probably say about eight hours. Eight hours straight,” Juan said. Sometimes he’d have to take a break because doing the puzzle was hurting his back.
The Salazars feel at home with their creation. They are accustomed to unusual objets d’art. Carolyn, an artist by trade, has her own company, Austin Airbrush Artworks, and some of her creations are equally quirky.
There’s the propane tank painted yellow to look like the Lego Man’s head that Carolyn made for her son David, 32. He requested it. And for her ice hockey-playing daughter-in-law Ashley, 30, Carolyn decorated a hockey mask with a tiara design. Along with playing hockey, Carolyn says, Ashley “decorates cookies and cakes.”
“That sounds like two different things that don’t really go together,” Carolyn said.
If somebody gave me a 24,000-piece jigsaw puzzle for Christmas, by spring it would be available in a garage sale, probably still in the box. Juan, however, actually enjoys the challenge of figuring out where each stinking little piece fits.
“I was doing puzzles since I was about 14,” he said. As a youngster, he was jigsaw puzzling at home in Eagle Pass. “My dad and I would sit and do puzzles together. But the puzzles were never this big.”
The name of the big puzzle is “Life,” which is appropriate since Juan has spent a good chunk of his life putting it together.
The puzzle has a small flaw. Two pieces are missing. Since there were 24,000 of them to start with, this wouldn’t seem like a major problem. So Carolyn uses this little glitch to play a mind game with friends.
“When people look at it now I say, ‘See if you can see where the two missing pieces are,’ ” she said. Personally, I couldn’t tell. Then again, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking.
“My wife did a wonderful job of touching it up, so you can’t tell where they’re at,” Juan said of the two tiny holes in the puzzle. “Unless you know where they are, you can’t find them.”
If you think this puzzle is big, you ought to check out the one still sitting in its box on the living room floor. That one, if ever tackled, would end up being 17 feet wide by 6 feet tall and would have 32,000 pieces.
But the book is out on whether the Salazars will mess with it. There’s no wall inside their house big enough to accommodate it.
“Once we put it together, I think the only place it’d fit is on the side of the house,” Juan said.
Here’s hoping they don’t have a neighborhood association.