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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.

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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

September 2018

Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

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Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Show More...
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Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Organizations making a positive impact on the health of Oklahomans will be honored at the 2018 Champions of Health Gala. All proceeds benefit the Oklahoma Caring Foundation, a non-profit...

Cost: TBD

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


Sponsor: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma
Telephone: 918.551.2164
Contact Name: Ellen Devereux

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Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

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Take Steps is the Foundation’s largest nationwide fundraising event where patients, loved ones, friends and supporters empower and inspire each other to continue the fight against...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S Lake Hefner Dr
Oklahoma City, OK  73116
View map »


Sponsor: Crohn's & Colitis Foundation
Telephone: 972.386.0607
Contact Name: Jackie Peterson
Website »

More information

Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
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