Chris Barbee's Bowling Ball
Chris in the summertime shade of his Star
Spangled Banner of balls.
called everything from an artist to a crazy
old fool," said Chris Barbee, standing next
to a robot he built of bowling balls.
dabbling in bowling ball art in the early
1990s, when his wife Carol had a garden in
their yard. Instead of decorating it with
gazing balls -- which could shatter
in Oklahoma weather -- the Barbees
used old bowling balls.
died. As a tribute, Chris took the balls --
which at the time numbered maybe a dozen --
and started building a decorative fence
along the road. He planned to add to it
slowly, buying balls at yard sales. "I
figured it'd take two, three years," said
Chris. "Then people seen what I was doing,
and the balls starting coming in."
grew longer and longer with each donation,
and Chris finally stopped it at 108 balls --
but by then he had hundreds more. So he
decided to use his surplus on other
Chris's yard has about 70 of his bowling
ball creations, ranging from single-ball
versions of ladybugs and pigs to a large
American flag (273 balls) and an Egyptian
pyramid (1,015 balls). A giant rosary (59
balls) was built by Chris to honor his
mother. The robot (45 balls) stands
half-hidden in a canebrake in a corner of
"I just try
to think of something to do with balls, and
go from there," said Chris of his art
project. "I had no idea it'd grow as big as
us his bowling ball house (344 bowling
balls, 140 pins), which shelters his
mini-museum of donated bags, trophies, and
other bowling paraphernalia. Goofy bowling
towels line the inner walls as insulation.
Chris's "special" balls, which he doesn't
want to leave out in the weather, are
displayed inside; elaborately decorated with
themes ranging from SpongeBob Squarepants to
"Freedom Isn't Free." Chris also has a
nearly complete collection of bowling balls
from every state. Visitors are encouraged to
call ahead if they think they have a ball
that Chris needs.
walls of the house feature Chris's memorial
balls, dedicated to deceased bowlers.
There's a ball for Chris's wife, and for one
of his daughters, and for two of his
brothers. There's a ball for Betty Patton,
84, who visited the yard and died soon
afterward ("Her daughter brought that
ball"). There are balls for five people from
Joplin, Missouri, who Chris doesn't even
know. "If people want to donate a ball in
memory of someone, I'll add it," said Chris.
if some of the balls might serve as urns,
which would turn the bowling ball house into
a kind of bowler's mausoleum. "I'm not
saying yay or nay on that," Chris answered.
"I really don't know."
walls also display balls with special
meaning to Chris, such as the one that his
son brought back from Paris, and the ball
dedicated to Tanner and Meagan Claborn, who
were the first couple to be married at the
Bowling Ball Yard on January 6, 2016.
his visitors to feel welcome, and friendly
signs out by the road invite travelers to
"come in, look around, take pictures." And,
of course, leave bowling balls: any weight,
any color. "Just kick 'em out in the yard,"
is the way Chris puts it. "I'll find them."
will all be used for art, not for sport.
Chris told us that his wife was the last
person that he bowled with, and that was in
1994. "The ball I used is down there on that
fence," said Chris. "I enjoyed bowling, I
really did. But I never did get very good at