MUNCIE, Ind. – Lexi Vann lost her race with Bob Ross.
The 19-year-old from Carmel, Ind., Sporting a bushy brown wig that defies the stiff Halloween afternoon breeze, dipped her brush into a pool of purple paint and began to outline it. ‘a mountain range, inspired by an episode of “The joy of painting” on a screen installed on the lawn.
But Ross, whose curly perm and soothing voice clashed with her hectic pace, finished her work, titled “Sunset Aglow,” five minutes before her. “As soon as he started walking with the trees, I was lost,” said Vann, red cheeks.
She was one of more than 100 fans of the PBS painter who made the trip – in her case 50 miles, but others have come from as far as Arizona – for the sold-out opening day of “Bob Ross Experience ‘, a $ 1.2 million permanent exhibitions and painting studio series in the city where the beloved TV host filmed his show from 1983 to 1994, and inspired generations of fans with her yes-you-can positivity.
Their pilgrimage brought them to Ross’s Old Broadcast Studio, Painting Studio and Temporary Art Gallery, housed in a collection of historic buildings that are now part of the Minnetrista Museum and Gardens. Fans dressed as the painter sampled iced tea – a signature he sipped between takes – and tried to recreate “Gray Mountain,” a vibrant landscape from 1992, in a workshop run by a certified Ross instructor. Partygoers meandered along a winding boulevard in a costume parade, with winners receiving bobbleheads from Bob Ross, complete with a miniature brush and bucket.
“It’s fantastic,” said Brett Estes, winner of Best Bob, dressed in a Bob wig (from a costume shop), beard (real) and light blue button. His brushes were stored in the front pocket.
But the crown jewel awaited fans at Ross’s studio, the former public broadcaster WIPB, inside the Lucius L. Ball House (the family gave the country the iconic glass cooking pot) .
Fifteen masked visitors per hour, with timed tickets, could pose with Ross’s easel, palette, and set of brushes he used to create what he called his “merry little trees.”
“We made him as close as possible to how he looked when he filmed here” while still welcoming visitors, said George Buss, vice president of visitor experience at Minnetrista.
The experience – offered Wednesday through Sunday – is akin to an Easter Egg Hunt: Items that once belonged to Ross, like the paintbrushes he used on the show, are safe behind the acrylic. But everything else is just a touch away. “We really wanted people to be immersed in space,” Mr. Buss said. “We have few discoverables anywhere and we know people will find new things with every visit.”
Ross lovers can don a vintage JC Penney shirt like the ones he wore on the show, or flip through a stack of his fan mail. And they can rummage through shelves full of Ross essentials like a jar of Vicks VapoRub, which he used to cleanse his sinuses to ensure a smooth, velvety voice, and the hairpick he kept in his pocket. back to tousle her perm.
But the ultimate Ross Zen awaits fans in the far corner of the studio, where a painting of a misty mountain sits on an easel, one of some 30,000 (copies included) the artist boasted of. produced in a 1991 interview with the New York Times. . (Ross died in 1995, aged 52, of complications from lymphoma; his work – if you can find one – has been listed for up to $ 55,000 on eBay.)
An episode of “The Joy of Painting” plays on the camera monitor – and visitors walking past the easel will find themselves in Ross’s place. The experience can be overwhelming, leaving some visitors in tears.
They can also walk across the hallway to recreate an American living room from the 1980s, its shelves filled with memorabilia such as a Bob Ross Chia Pet and a Bob Ross toaster. “We also wanted to show Bob that the fans watching at home in their living room knew him,” Mr. Buss said.
In another building half a mile from the Boulevard, a dozen masked people leaned over socially distant webs, trying their hand at “Gray Mountain,” in a masterclass led by Jeremy Rogers, a 21-year-old Ross instructor. . (The fourth Workshops offered this weekend were limited to 12 people per class, but Minnetrista plans to offer the three-hour sessions twice a month in the future, for $ 70 per person.)
Mr. Rogers has been certified since 2018 – one of at least 5,000 instructors to complete a three-week training course at the Bob Ross Art Workshop and Gallery in Florida. It offers certification in landscape, flower and wildlife painting and requires students to do about two paintings per day) “It’s pretty intense,” he said, adding that it was speed. required of instructors he found most difficult. Ross completed each painting live, with no interruptions or cuts, in 26 minutes and 47 seconds.
“Do it as fast as him…” Rogers paused and shook his head. “Man.” He said it took him about an hour to finish a painting. Doug Hallgren, a certified since 2003, managed to tie Ross blow for blow in a demonstration Saturday on the lawn.
The trick, he says, is to embrace “happy little accidents” as Ross called them. “It’s about learning not to go back,” Hallgren said. “It doesn’t matter what you might want.”
Jessica Jenkins, vice president of collections and storytelling at Minnetrista, said that while critics give Ross a reputation for kitsch, she’s thrilled to see him finally get the recognition he deserves. The Smithsonian Museum of American History acquired four Bob Ross paintings and a selection of memorabilia last year, and although the museum has not announced its schedule to display them, the Bob Ross Experience currently displays six of the 26 paintings. from the Minnetrista collection.
“A lot of people don’t consider Bob to be a true artist, which is upsetting because he did it on purpose for television,” Ms. Jenkins said. She walked over to a Ross seascape – a gift from Ross’ widow – on the wall of the Ball house. “It’s a lot more than what he did on TV,” she said. “These are the ones he took his time on; the ones he made for him.
An exhibition of 29 paintings by Bob Ross that have never been shown publicly can also be seen at Oakhurst, a historic Ball home nearby. The majority are loans from the residents of Muncie, who tell how they acquired the paintings from Ross’s demonstrations in local malls, or as gifts from the painter himself.
So how did the American television painter end up in a college town in the middle of the country? Prior to the early 1980s, it is unlikely that Florida-born Ross could have placed Muncie on a map. But from 1983 to 1994, the painter visited the Midwestern city four times a year to record his show.
(He had filmed the first season of “The Joy of Painting” in a suburb of Washington, DC, but the audio and video quality was poor. Ross, who has traveled to painting education workshops in the Midwest, wanted to broaden his audience. beyond the East Coast. So when he advertised on Muncie’s public TV channel and his classes were full, he suspected he had something special on his hands – and concluded an agreement to film the series here.)
And the community has long been involved in preserving its heritage. Minnetrista has been planning the $ 1.2 million project since 2018. It received a $ 250,000 grant from the Indiana Tourism Board, as well as support from Bob Ross Inc., the company that owns “The Joy of Painting ”and the name of Bob Ross, among other patrons. (One of them is Twitch, the streaming service that drew 5.6 million viewers when it broadcast a live marathon of all episodes of “The Joy of Painting” in 2015.)
Organizers hope to open the second stage of the project, which includes the renovation of the second floor of the LL Ball house and the opening of a permanent painting studio and gallery space there next fall.
Ms Jenkins acknowledges that the midst of a pandemic may seem like an odd time to launch an interactive exhibit like this, but she says everyone could use a dose of Ross’s calm and positivity right now.
“My biggest fear upon entering this project was finding out that he was not the person I thought I was,” Ms. Jenkins said. “But the Bob Ross that you see on television is very sincere. He put everyone first constantly. I was like, ‘Oh, thank goodness that wasn’t an idiot.’