Lions, elephants & bears, oh My! Larry Solomon’s East Plano estate is a one-of-a-kind jungle oasis

Photography by Jennifer Shertzer

East Plano drivers know the landmark well. Atop a small hill near a slight bend on Parker Road, two elephant sculptures appear seemingly out of nowhere. They are the handiwork of Larry Solomon, a retired executive turned full-time artist with a creative spirit that seemingly knows no bounds. From painting and sculpting to metalwork and wood carving, he enjoys working in all mediums, focusing on wherever inspiration takes him.

It took him about three months to put together the elephants. Inside is a thick metal skeleton along with some rebar. A mesh outer layer was then filled with stone. He also managed to incorporate irrigation inside the bellies of the friendly beasts.

Those elephants were not the first sculpture to command the roadside hill. That would be the shell of a classic Volkswagen Beetle Solomon repurposed into a giant planter with ivy shooting out. City officials didn’t see it as a work of art but rather a scrap vehicle in public view. That, he was informed, was a violation of local ordinances. 

“I put a whole presentation together and went and presented my case,” he recalls. “They took it all the way up the chain and then some legal dude said, ‘We can’t make an exception.’”

The car now resides on the interior of this property, safely out of view and guarded by the live peacocks and chickens that reside nearby.

Solomon says he started his life as an artist. However, after getting married and having kids, he knew he needed a steadier job. That led him to the corporate world and a job with the Cadbury Corporation in his native South Africa. After working his way up, the company promoted him to head of organizational development and gave him a three-year assignment in London.   

When that time was up, he figured he would return to South Africa. The company had other ideas and sent him to Texas as the head of human resources for its Dr Pepper/Seven Up division. 

He assumed he would be in the United States for only a couple of years. That was 22 years ago. He could not have timed it any better, as the company has experienced some of the most explosive growth in its history during his tenure.  

“I was so blessed in my career,” he says. “I took early retirement and went back to my first love, which was art.”

He says it’s the challenge that often inspires him. With a little bit of engineering, some creativity and luck, things can happen. When he began working on the elephant sculpture, he wasn’t sure how he would do it. Like most of his projects, he says it was just a matter of trying different things. If they work, great. If they don’t, learn from them, and try something else.

His hippopotamus sculpture, Rosie, is a perfect example. She lives in a natural pond on his property that is fed by storm runoff on its way to Bob Woodruff Park. The hippo’s name was inspired by the lead character from the movie Titanic. Rosie just keeps floating around in the water. Or at least she should. It’s taken a couple of modifications to get it right. 

Solomon’s original idea was to fill the shell with foam insulation. It turns out that wasn’t the best material to use — even a microscopic leak would eventually make the sculpture sink. He ended up pulling out all the foam and replacing it with PVC pipe. Now she floats just fine, moving along the pond as she pleases.

Look just about anywhere on Solomon’s property, and you will probably see another piece of art. Wise owls that have been carved from an old piece of wood sit atop books. Metallic ostriches stand guard over a small rock garden. A large chunk of bois d’arc wood lies off to the side, waiting to be transformed into a yet-to-be-determined creation.  

Inside his workshop, there are paintings, metal sculptures and self-made molds ready to bring his latest ideas to life. While Solomon went to art school to refine his painting and drawing, many of the things he does today have been self-taught. He recalls watching YouTube videos before attempting the owls, his first chainsaw sculpture.

“I said let’s go for it,” he says. “It’s terrifying but you just hold tight and make sure you have all the right protective gear. It’s actually great fun.”

While he may not miss working in the corporate world, that doesn’t mean his schedule is any less busy. At any given time, he is typically working on multiple projects. He says that staying busy helps keep him out of “mischief.”

“There’s no such thing as retirement. Call it ‘refirement,’’ he says. “I’ve re-fired, not retired.”

Solomon lectures as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, sharing with MBA students the knowledge he’s learned over the course of a 30-year career as an executive. He has four adult kids, including a son in South Africa, a daughter in England and another son in Australia. 

He is also heavily involved with the nonprofit My Possibilities, which supports adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. His wife, Charmaine, founded the organization, inspired by their son Kyle, who lives in Plano and has special needs. 

Solomon donates half of all sales revenue generated from his art to My Possibilities. His work can be found at

lsolomon.artspan.com

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