‘Bob Ross Expertise’ Opens in Indiana, Comfortable Bushes and All
MUNCIE, Ind. – Lexi Vann lost her race with Bob Ross.
Wearing a bushy brown bob wig that braved the stiff Halloween afternoon breeze, the 19-year-old from Carmel, Indiana, dipped her brush in a pool of purple paint and began drawing the outline of a mountain range, drawing on herself an oriented episode of “The Joy of Painting” on a screen on the lawn.
But Ross, whose curly perm and calming voice defied his breakneck pace, finished his work on “Sunset Aglow” five minutes before her. “As soon as he started walking with the trees, I was lost,” said Mrs. Vann, her cheeks flushed.
She was among the more than 100 fans of the PBS painter who made the trek – 50 miles in her case, but others even came from Arizona – on the sold-out opening day of the Bob Ross Experience, a $ 1.2 purse Millions of permanent exhibition and painting workshop series in the city, where the beloved TV presenter shot his show from 1983 to 1994 and delighted generations of fans with his yes-you-can-positivity.
Her pilgrimage took her to Ross’ former radio studio, painting workshop, and temporary art gallery, housed in a collection of historic buildings that are now part of the Minnetrista Museum and Gardens. Fans disguised as painters tried iced tea – a signature he sipped between takes – and attempted to recreate “Gray Mountain,” a living 1992 landscape, in a workshop led by a certified Ross instructor. The night owls meandered in a costume parade along a winding boulevard. The winners received Bob Ross bobbleheads with a miniature brush and bucket.
“This is fantastic,” said Brett Estes, the best bob winner, who wore a bob wig (from a costume store), a beard (real) and a light blue button-down. His brushes were in the front pocket.
But the crown jewel awaited fans in Ross’ studio, the former public television broadcaster WIPB, in the Lucius L. Ball House (the family donated the iconic kitchen glass to the country).
Fifteen masked visitors per hour with timed tickets were able to pose with Ross’s easel, palette and brushes with which he created his “happy little trees”.
“We got it as close as possible to what it looked like when he was filming here,” said George Buss, vice president of visitor experience at Minnetrista.
The experience – offered Wednesday through Sunday – is similar to an Easter egg hunt: items that belonged to Ross, like the brushes he used on the show, are safe behind acrylic. But everything else is fair game to touch. “We really wanted people to immerse themselves in the room,” said Buss. “We have little to discover anywhere and we know that people will find new things every time they visit.”
Ross lovers can pull on a vintage JC Penney shirt like he wore on the show or browse a pile of his fan mail. And they can browse shelves full of Ross essentials, like a glass of Vicks VapoRub that he used to clean his sinuses to ensure a smooth, velvety voice and the hair clip he kept in his back pocket to blow out his perm.
But the ultimate Ross Zen awaits fans in the back corner of the studio, where a painting of a misty mountain rests on an easel, one of around 30,000 (including copies) the artist produced in a 1991 interview with the New York Times. (Ross died of complications from lymphoma in 1995 at the age of 52. His works – if you can find one – were on eBay for up to $ 55,000.)
An episode of “The Joy of Painting” is playing on the camera monitor – and visitors standing in front of the easel are in Ross’ shoes. The experience can be overwhelming and leave some visitors in tears.
You can also step across the hall into a replica of an American living room from the 1980s, with shelves filled with memorabilia like a Bob Ross Chia Pet and a Bob Ross Toaster. “We also wanted to show Bob how fans who watched in their living room at home knew him,” said Buss.
In another building, half a mile up the boulevard, a dozen masked people in a master class led by Jeremy Rogers, a 21-year-old Ross instructor, crouched over socially distant canvases and tried their hand at “Gray Mountain.” (The four The workshops offered this weekend were limited to 12 people per class, but Minnetrista plans to offer the three-hour sessions twice a month for USD 70 per person in the future.)
Mr. Rogers has been certified since 2018 – one of at least 5,000 instructors who have completed a three-week training course at the Bob Ross Art Workshop and Gallery in Florida. It offers certification in landscape, flower, and animal painting and requires students to complete approximately two paintings per day. “It’s pretty intense,” he said, adding that it was the speed required by the instructors that he found the most difficult. Ross completed each image in 26 minutes and 47 seconds live on the air without interruptions or excerpts.
“To make it as fast as he -” Rogers paused and shook his head. “Man.” He said it would take him about an hour to finish a painting. Doug Hallgren, who has been certified since 2003, managed to measure Ross stroke by stroke during a demonstration on the lawn on Saturday.
The trick, he said, is to accept “happy little accidents,” as Ross called them. “It’s about learning not to go back,” Hallgren said. “No matter how much you want.”
Jessica Jenkins, vice president of collections and storytelling at Minnetrista, said that while critics saddle Ross with a reputation for kitsch, she is thrilled that he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves. The Smithsonian Museum of American History acquired four Bob Ross paintings and a selection of memorabilia last year. Although the museum has not announced its timeframe for the exhibition, the Bob Ross Experience is currently showing six of the 26 paintings in the Minnetrista collection.
“A lot of people don’t see Bob as a real artist, which is annoying because he purposely made it easy for television,” said Ms. Jenkins. She went to a Ross Seascape – a gift from Ross’ widow – on the wall in the Ballhaus. “This is way more than what he did on TV,” she said. “These are the ones he took time for; the ones he did for him. “
There is also an exhibition of 29 paintings by Bob Ross that have never been on public display in Oakhurst, a historic ballroom nearby. The majority are loans from Muncie residents telling how they acquired the pictures from Ross’ demonstrations in local malls or as a gift from the painter himself.
How did America’s television painter get into a university town in the middle of the country? Before the early 1980s, it is doubtful that Florida-born Ross Muncie could have placed on a card. From 1983 to 1994 the painter visited the city in the Midwest four times a year to record his exhibition.
(He had shot the first season of The Joy of Painting in the suburbs of Washington, DC, but the audio and video quality was poor. Ross, who traveled the Midwest and taught painting workshops, wanted audiences beyond the East Coast When he advertised on Muncie’s public television network and his class was sold out, he suspected he had something special on his hands – and got a deal to film the series here.)
And the community has invested a long time to preserve its legacy. Minnetrista has been planning the $ 1.2 million project since 2018. It received a $ 250,000 grant from the Indiana Tourism Council and support from Bob Ross Inc., the company that makes The Joy of Painting and the name Bob, among others Ross belong to patrons. (One of them is Twitch, the streaming service that drew 5.6 million viewers when it live streamed a marathon full of episodes of “The Joy of Painting” in 2015.)
The organizers hope to be able to open the second phase of the project next fall, which will include the renovation of the second floor of the LL Ball house and the opening of a permanent painting workshop and gallery space.
Ms. Jenkins admits that the midst of a pandemic seems like an odd time to launch an interactive exhibit like this one, but she says anyone could use a dose of Ross’ calm and assertiveness right now.
“My biggest fear with this project was that I would find out that he wasn’t who I thought he was,” said Ms. Jenkins. “But the Bob Ross you see on TV is absolutely sincere. He always put everyone else first. I said, “Oh, thank god he wasn’t an idiot.”