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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

April 2019

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

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National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
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Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
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View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
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Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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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 »

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Oklahoma State University Department of Music
132 Seretean Ctr
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Sponsor: Oklahoma State University Department of Music
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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

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Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
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View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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 »

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Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
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Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

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...
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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
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Sponsor: Delta Dental

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706 W. Sheridan Ave.
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Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
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Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

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