Library classes spread the joy of painting, with the help of Bob Ross

Bob Ross, beloved artist and host of The Joy of Painting, died in 1994. But recently, libraries and community centres around the U.S. have been holding Ross-themed painting classes, and they're growing in popularity.

'He's very encouraging. He's nonjudgmental,' library director Josie Parker says of the late Bob Ross

A boy shows off his painting (and wig) at a Bob Ross paint-along event at Ann Arbor District Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Submitted by Ann Arbor District Library)
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Bob Ross, the beloved artist who taught people how to paint lush landscapes and happy little trees on PBS's The Joy of Painting for over a decade, would have been 76 years old this past Wednesday.

Ross died in 1994, and the show ended with him. But recently, libraries and community centres around the U.S. have been holding Ross-themed painting classes, and they're growing in popularity.

Josie Parker, director at Ann Arbor District Library, says their paint-alongs have become so popular since they started them about a year ago that they've had to triple the size of their classes.

"The first time we presented it, we expected 16 [people]. We got 90," Parker told As It Happens host Carol Off. "Last night, we had 150 people come, and we had to turn people away because that's the space we had available last evening."

The Bob Ross paint-along event in Ann Arbor has been steadily growing in popularity. (Submitted by the Ann Arbor District Library)

Guests are greeted by a life-size cutout of Ross, and sometimes a library employee wearing a wig simulating the painter's signature fluffy coif. Then they break out the paints and brushes.

"Bob Ross is on a huge screen that we drop down from the ceiling, so people can see him from all over the room and hear him. Our staff are wandering around, helping people make sure they have enough paint and answering questions quietly if there's something they need help with," explained Parker.

Ann Arbor District Library director Josie Parker says the paint-along events are more relaxed, and don't have traditional painting instructors. (Submitted by the Ann Arbor DIstrict Library)

'We're not teaching it; Bob Ross is teaching it'

Some libraries have hired the skills of Bob Ross-certified instructors who can offer more hands-on, technical advice on how to replicate the painter's signature technique.

But Parker says she prefers the more relaxed environment in Ann Arbor's library.

"We have purchased the rights to have the program live on the screen, and people are in our space painting the same way they would be if they were at home," she said. "We're not teaching it; Bob Ross is teaching it. And I think that's why people like it."

To Parker, paying tribute to Ross is more about fostering the community than perfecting the craft of painting.

People show off their paintings (and wigs) at the Ann Arbor District Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Submitted by Ann Arbor District Library)

"I think the appeal is how it's done. [Ross] is very quiet spoken. He's very encouraging. He's nonjudgmental. He's very happy. He intends you to find a happy moment in the hour and a half you spend painting along with him. I think people miss that," she said.

"I think we need a Mr. Rogers, [or] we need a Bob Ross in our lives ... and we're pleased that the public library is able to bring that to people."

If you don't happen to live in Ann Arbour or another library holding a Bob Ross-related event, don't worry: livestreaming website Twitch is currently holding their fourth-annual Bob Ross marathon, airing more than 400 episodes of The Joy of Painting back-to-back.

That's more than eight and a half straight days of happy trees and rivers, with help from Van Dyke Brown, Sap Green and Prussian Blue.


Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Richard Raycraft.