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Allen Christian invites visitors into his House of Balls

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It's 10 p.m. on Friday night, and three twentysomethings are standing outside of a small storefront on Third Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. They're trying to make sense of the bizarre sculptures and haunting sounds seeping out into the night. Maybe it's the neon that drew them in; maybe it's the silhouette covered in magnets outside of the entrance. Or maybe it's the name.

"Oh my God you guys; it's called House of Balls," one girl shouts as she finally notices the small lit-up overhead sign.

[jump] Welcome to one of the most unusual and fantastic places the Twin Cities has to offer. For the past 18 years, the House of Balls has sat quietly tucked away in a small, unassuming space at 212 Third Avenue North in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis, welcoming all and inviting them to look, touch, and feel the energy pouring out of each piece. The inspiration for this quirky and incredible gem: bowling balls.

"I spent years in a different space downtown, working with more traditional materials," explains House of Balls' creator Allen Christian. "Bowling balls opened me up to the vast wasteland of unorthodox materials." In fact, according to Christian the balls provide an energy other materials can't.

"I believe in animism, which is the idea that a person leaves behind part of their spirit and energy when they touch an object, so I think that putting your fingers in the holes of a bowling ball that someone has had their fingers in creates a transfer of energy from one person to the next."

While the idea of making something magnificent out of one of history's trashiest sporting goods may seem like a difficult task, a quick spin through Christian's gallery/workplace proves otherwise. Intricate, colorful, and odd, his bowling ball sculptures are something to be seen -- as is the rest of his "house."

Covered from floor-to-ceiling with pieces formed from steel pipes to stained glass, Christian explains his choice in unusual components. "I'm fascinated by older generations of materials," he says. "Materials of the past were built to last. They are more about form and function, and they surround us every day. Working with bi-products of just living life has always interested me."

An electrician by day, Christian has quietly carved out a niche for himself in the Twin Cities artist community over the past two decades, endearing himself to both connoisseurs and casual observers by welcoming anyone and everyone free of charge.

"I get all walks of life through here," he explains. "The other night I had a bunch of high school kids in here. Sometimes I'll get homeless guys; other times I get people coming from the Twins games. It all just depends on the day. I think people are both drawn to this place because of a combination of excitement and a little fear of the unknown -- which is what I like."

Indeed, the House of Balls is a sight to behold for the most cultured art lover or the non-fan who wouldn't be caught dead in a stuffy art gallery. That is, if you happen to make it inside.

The House of Balls doesn't keep set hours, as the writing on the door clearly explains. Instead, most patrons interested in visiting need to be in the right place at the right time. "Part of the serendipity of the House of Balls is not knowing when you're going to get in," Christian says.

While he has created hundreds of pieces and visited with many more visitors, his ultimate dream is to one day move to a space with no limitations. "I would love to someday move to an outdoor environment where the sky is the only limitation," he says.

In the meantime, the sculptor will continue to turn ordinary materials into images that stretch the imagination, while allowing visitors a unique experience unlike any other you'll find in the area. But even after all of the creations, all of the visitors, and all of the years of turning the small space on Third into the spectacle that is the House of Balls, one question still remains: Can Allen Christian bowl?

"I'm not bad," he says with a shrug, before looking up to reveal a smile. "I go a few times a year. I'm actually pretty good." Obviously the energy stuck.


Tiny Dogs visit Allen Christian's House of Balls from Max Haynes on Vimeo.