To get to my parents house from Missouri, you have to drive through Nowata, Okla. It’s a small town, and there’s not a whole lot going on there. There’s a post office, a gun range, and “Taco Town.” Oh, and don’t forget a small sign off Highway 60 beckoning visitors to Bowling Ball Yard Art.
My mom drives that road often for work, and a year or so ago her curiosity got the better of her. She followed the smalls signs down two miles of gravel road to a small farm lot surrounded by horses and cattle. The “yard art” made such an impression on her, that she insisted we give it a try the next time we drove through. We gave it a try in March, and it did not disappoint. This weekend, we went back for a second helping and we brought our friends, Nikki and Jason. So, what exactly is Bowling Ball Yard Art? It’s exactly what you’re thinking it is, only 100x better. Especially when the artist is at home and gives you a guided tour. Is it initially odd to drive up to some guy’s house, get out and check out his bowling balls? Yep. But it’s worth it!After his wife passed away in 1997, he tried to think of something to do with the bowling balls she used as ultra-durable gazing balls in her rose garden. Not being into gardening himself, he eventually settled in on constructing a bowling ball fence. He thought it would take years to finish, but after finding a few cheap balls at garage sales and a few surprise donations, he was done and needed another project. Fast forward 15 years, his yard is now a collection of some 2,100 bowling balls, most of which have been donated/dropped off at his mail box (one woman even FedEx-ed him balls from Michigan) that he paints and re-purposes. There are two “donation” balls (think homemade piggy banks) and a book to suggest new projects. Just some of his pieces that I can remember:
- OU and OSU logos
- Breast Cancer Ribbon
- Deck of cards (heart, spade, diamond and club)
- A giant rosary
- Christmas tree
- Pool table
- “Lollipop Row”
- Working fountain, with water bubbling up from the thumb hole
- a giant croquet set
- a centipede
- and my personal favorite, the Newton’s Cradle
It sounds goofy and weird, and it is, a little. But it’s also really, really interesting. We spent 45 minutes there (Nikki and Jason are bowlers who had to check out each ball’s brand and weight) but Chris is a normal guy who just has a fun – if unusual – hobby. Then there’s the Bowling Ball House. It’s worth seeing. It’s a small shed that houses “specials,” or balls from specific locations (20 states are represented on the west outside wall) or dedicated in honor or in memory of someone. I think he said it’s covered with 350 exterior balls. It’s “shingled” with half-bowling pins. It houses his guestbook and map of visitors’ homes. So far, he’s had visitors from all but five states (you can tell those pesky north-easterners that refuse to come visit and complete his map annoy him) and international visitors from dozens of countries. It’s a shame he’s not on Route 66, or his work would be a must-see road-side attraction in every traveler’s guide ever printed.