Where bowling balls have forever escaped their lanes.
Chris Barbee has taken a post retirement hobby and turned it into a must see attraction in Nowata County. Tour buses, politicians and children of all ages have visited Chris to admire his own form of artistic expression, his bowling balls.
I visited Chris and his bowling ball sanctuary when I was shooting film for the county’s new countywide video. I had heard of his place, but had never made it out there to witness his art form firsthand. Stories of his unique hobby had vividly preceded him, but when I arrived with my videographer, we both were amazed. The time, the detail, the overwhelming number of bowling balls. But, what the bowling ball art forms can’t tell on their own, is the story behind the design or that specific ball.
To set the scene for you, I had called Chris a few weeks earlier for his permission to come film his place and he kindly obliged. However, my usual self, I was trying to pack 99 million things into one day, metaphorically speaking of course. Running 15 minutes late and chasing the setting autumn sun, I was in a hurry to get a few good shots of his place before it became too dark to shoot. As my videographer and I pulled up to his place, we found Chris sitting in a lawn chair outside of his house awaiting our arrival. After I expressed my deepest apologies for running late, we got to talking.
As my videographer took shots of a few of his iconic pieces with the Oklahoma autumn sun setting in the background, I spent the time to talk to Chris about his place and his obsession with bowling balls. 2,840 to be exact, he told me. Most of his designs were inspired by family members. Like the Oklahoma State University (OSU) piece that was made for his daughter. He also had bowling balls that were only on display and not in a specific design. These balls, like most, had been shipped to him or dropped off at his house by local people who know of his love for bowling balls. A University of Oklahoma team bowling ball, a Mickey Mouse ball, a tie-dye ball. It made you start to wonder if there were any bowling alleys left.
But, what I will never forget is the pure joy that Chris gets out of people coming out to his place. When I asked him if he ever thought about charging for admittance to the place, he just chuckled. He actually just recently starting accepting donations after an outcry from visitors seeking to give some sort of patronage for his art form. How do you place a donation? Of course, he made a bowling ball for that.
So with all that being said, I invite you to come out to Chris Barbee’s Bowling Ball Yard Art. Take some photos (They are welcomed), listen to Chris’ stories and most of all, enjoy the OK life.
You can learn more about visiting Chris Barbee’s Bowling Ball Yard Art on his Facebook page. Tour buses and school field trips are welcomed.
–Anthony William Tucker