Bowling Since Birth / by Tyler Voorhees

At my core, I'm a collector of stories. It's why I love to travel. It's why I'm so fascinated by people, past and present. And it's also why I love bowling.

I was born on a Thursday back in January of 1984, but this story takes place two days prior, on Tuesday. Outside, the South Dakota winter rages, cold wind whipping the snow drifts barely visible in the moonlight. But inside the Village Bowl, a group of ladies are cozy and giggling uncontrollably. One of them has been bowling the game of her life and it couldn't be funnier.

With a graceful but precarious waddle, the bowler begins her wind up, gaining what momentum she can as she swings the ball to the side and releases it down the lane, sending it hurtling into the ten pins. Another strike. Another round of uproarious laughter. The woman holds her bulging belly as she laughs, giving her unborn son a pre-natal high-five.

My mom, pregnant and getting fancy before she bowls.  |  Tulare, SD

My mom, pregnant and getting fancy before she bowls.  |  Tulare, SD

That woman is my mother and she bowled her best game ever (218) that night, nine months pregnant and two days before she would welcome me, her second-born son into the world. It's a story that's told often in my family and one that I hold onto dearly, a clear reason why, 33 years later, I still bowl every year on my birthday without fail.

Bowling on my 32nd birthday  |  Fort Collins, CO

Bowling on my 32nd birthday  |  Fort Collins, CO

For most folks, we have stories like this that define us. Some are joyous, some are tragic, but they all provide a shortcut to get at the heart of our identity. We use them to try and illustrate who we truly are underneath it all because those stories somehow transformed us, however slightly.

The power of stories is also at the heart of my work and it's why I so enjoy sharing it with you all. Not only do I get to tell my own stories and how I connect to the long-limbed characters, but I get to hear your stories as well and how our tales are linked somehow by a painting I've created. Like the woman in Kansas who, upon seeing The Iceman, recalled getting her tongue stuck to the icebox as a child. Or the Denver gal whose grandfather was a bombardier during WWII. Or the countless people who have shared the juicy gossip they collected during their years working the switchboard. It's a wonderful gig and one I very much look forward to each festival season.

Next to the Lamplighter, I've depicted the story of The Pinsetter more than any other occupation in The Jobs of Yesteryear. Perhaps it's because setting pins is an intriguing and oft-forgotten occupation. Or maybe it's the striking imagery that a bowling alley provides. But I'd rather think that I'm drawn to the pinsetter on a more innate level, having been shown the joy of laughing with friends at the bowling alley before I was even born, as a young and very pregnant mother bowled the best game of her life.

The Pinsetter IV combines the enjoyment of bowling with the intriguing history of the young men who set the pins. Pinsetters endured obvious hazards on the job, dodging pins and bowling balls hurled by mischievous men. They were often teenage boys, as the job was a low wage and part-time gig. The mechanical pinsetter, an incredibly clever machine invented back in 1936, eventually replaced the need to hire manual pinsetters, although there are still a few alleys in the US that employ them.

The Pinsetter IV  |   24x48 inches acrylic, watercolor paper, kraft paper, graphite on stained birch panel  S HOP

The Pinsetter IV  |   24x48 inches
acrylic, watercolor paper, kraft paper, graphite on stained birch panel

Thank you for taking the time to share in my story and please continue to share any stories that my art conjures up in your mind. I hope to see you soon.