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The Bowling Ball Man of Nowata

77 Counties



Unlike Most Of His Neighbors, Chris Barbee’s Mailbox Is Topped By A Trophy And Balanced On Three Bowling Balls.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Dozens more bowling balls dangle, suspended by chains, from his 80-foot-long, front-yard fence facing County Road 021.

All told, Barbee has collected more than 2,800 bowling balls – weighting nearly 20 tons – to create Nowata County’s only folk-art sculpture garden.

The balls are skewered on metal posts, strung like pearls, piled in a pyramid. They have been painted as ladybugs and caterpillars and spiders, nestled in the long grass. Fashioned into a robot.
A rosary. The alphabet.

He began eight years ago, after pondering what to do with the old bowling balls his second wife, Carol, had used as decorations among her roses. After she died of cancer in 1997, the garden went untended.

The eighth of 15 children born on a dairy farm in nearby Chelsea, Barbee retired in 2005 after working on the farm and in the oil field, with a 10-year stint as a shipper for a printing company. He was used to keeping busy, and the question of what to do with the bowling balls kept tickling the back of his mind.

“I kicked these bowling balls around for several years. Decided I needed to do something with them, either get rid of them or make something. So I came up with the fence. The first bowling ball on it was my own, and it just took off like wildfire from there.”

He has since created works ranging from a single-ball bunny head to the 819-ball pyramid behind the house. His larger-than-life American flag took 273 red, white and blue bowling balls and two-and-a-half years to complete.

The giant rosary is in honor of his mother. The breast cancer ribbon made of pink bowling balls is a tribute to Carol and to his daughters fighting the disease. Up the drive, on the right, is a shrine encased in Plexiglas and surrounded by double rows of bowling balls with names of tornado victims. A note explains that the ball and pin were in the Moore Bowling Alley when it was hit by the EF5 tornado May 20, 2013.

He likes to ponder new projects: “I’m not in the 10th frame of life yet. I had another three or four brought to me this week. I’m open to ideas; I’m open to suggestions. We’ll just see where it goes from there.”

He wonders what his folks would think of the hundreds of visitors he gets each year. “I often think of my parents, who moved here in 1966. I bought the place in ’94. If mom and dad knew how many cars and people stop by today, they would never believe it!”

What would Carol think of the bowling ball artwork?

Barbee laughs. “It would not make her happy. She was an only child. She never even wanted me to put out a bird feeder.” 

Project began May 2006
14 Number of original bowling balls
2,800 Number of bowling balls now on display
1,500 Visitors per year
Date of first visiting bus tour May 19, 2009
Admission Free
Earliest artwork completed The fence
Length of fence 80 feet
Diameter of each bowling ball 8.5 inches
Maximum bowling ball weight 16 pounds
819 Number of bowling balls in The Pyramid
344 Number in the Bowling Ball House
273 Number of bowling balls in the American flag
15 Number of nations represented by visitors
49 Number of states represented by visitors
Only state not listed in guest book South Dakota


Editor’s Note: This installment is part of author M.J. Alexander’s “77 Counties” series, chronicling her travels across Oklahoma. The full series is available at sliceok.com/travel/

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Calendar

January 2019

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Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
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Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Celebrate during MLK weekend with fun! From Saturday 1/19 through Monday 1/21, experience our Winter Fun Pass for just $19.95! This pass includes unlimited laser tag, bumper cars, frog hopper, kidz...

Cost: 19.95

Where:
Andy Alligator's Fun Park
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View map »


Sponsor: Andy Alligator's Fun Park
Telephone: 405.321.7275
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Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Visitors to Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary will be able to let their imaginations run wild as they travel back in time with life-size animatronic dinosaurs along a half-mile...

Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place
McKinney, TX  75069
View map »


Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

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Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place
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View map »


Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

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Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
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View map »


Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
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View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Visitors to Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary will be able to let their imaginations run wild as they travel back in time with life-size animatronic dinosaurs along a half-mile...

Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place
McKinney, TX  75069
View map »


Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

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More information

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Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Visitors to Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary will be able to let their imaginations run wild as they travel back in time with life-size animatronic dinosaurs along a half-mile...

Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place
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View map »


Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
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View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

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Civic Center Music Hall - City Space
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