As It Happens

Bob Ross Experience exhibit brings fans close to the beloved painter

The exhibit is an immersive experience that takes Bob Ross fans into the other side of the television screen. Visitors have the opportunity to tour his studio, walk up to the easel where one of his original paintings is displayed, and bring the show back to life. 

Muncie, Ind., museum launches an exhibit in Bob Ross' studio

Jessica Jenkins, vice president of collections and storytelling at the Minnetrista museum and co-curator of the Bob Ross Experience. (Submitted by Jessica Jenkins)

Jessica Jenkins was one of those kids who sat on the couch at home, sick from school, watching Bob Ross as he painted happy little clouds and other landscapes.

Now, she is one of the curators behind the first Bob Ross Experience, an exhibit drawing in fans from across the U.S. to the beloved painter's studio.

"Bob is just so calming and relaxing," Jenkins told As It Happens host Carol Off. "Everyone's feeling a little more anxious than usual that Bob and his calm … quiet nature … is really appealing to people."

From 1983 to 1988, Ross filmed The Joy of Painting at the former public television station WIPB-TV in Muncie, Ind. The station was set up in a historic home, with his tiny painting studio in what was once a living room. 

The house is now a part of the local Minnetrista museum, where Jenkins is vice-president of collections and storytelling.

"We've done our best to really recreate that space that Bob was filming in," she said. "So you really get a sense of what it was like to be in there with the TV cameras, that black backdrop … and the orange carpet … kind of a leftover from the '70s."

The studio tour

The exhibit is an immersive experience that takes fans into the other side of the television screen.

Even 25 years after his death, Ross is remembered for having a soothing voice and swift pace while completing a painting in just under a half-hour.

Visitors have the opportunity to tour his studio, walk right up to the easel where one of his original paintings is displayed, and bring the show back to life. 

The museum has 26 original paintings by Ross, as well as his personal easel, palette and brushes. 

"You can stand there, right there where Bob did, put your feet right where his feet were while he was painting, and you can get your picture there," Jenkins said.

"You can really kind of just feel that space and what it was like to be there ... up close and personal with those artifacts."

Fans celebrate his legacy

The museum celebrated its opening of the Bob Ross Experience this past weekend with fans traveling from across the U.S., as far away as Florida and Arizona, to central Indiana. 

Because of COVID, Jenkins says the museum is limiting visitors to 15 people per hour. 

"We've had a really great response," Jenkins said. "Over the course of the weekend, we sold out all of our tickets."

Opening day fell on Halloween. Along with the tour of his studio, ticket-holders got to attend a painting workshop and even dress up as Ross for a costume contest.

"We saw a handful of Bob Rosses throughout the day, from the wig down to the, you know, the perfect buttoned-up shirt. We saw some people carrying palettes and paint brushes and really doing their best to embody Bob and do their own interpretation," Jenkins said.

"We even saw one couple that came together. The gentleman was dressed up as Bob and the woman was dressed up as a happy little tree. They were quite the Bob Ross pair."

Visitors tour the beloved painter's studio and pose for photos in the Minnetrista museum. The Bob Ross Experience is currently on exhibit in Muncie, Indiana, where "The Joy of Painting" was filmed. (Submitted by Katy Maggart)

Ross was also known for his iconic curly hair. The exhibit reveals that his hair was, in fact, naturally straight. 

"We have on good authority, for real, he got it permed as a cost-saving. He thought he'd have to get less haircuts less often with it permed, and he kind of got stuck with it. It became his trademark look," Jenkins said.

Visitors of the Bob Ross Experience attend a painting workshop on opening day of the exhibit. Some of the visitors dressed up as Ross, with his iconic afro, that day for Halloween. (Submitted by Katy Maggart)

When Jenkins started working on the exhibit, she had to research and find out as much as she could about him. Her biggest worry was not that of a curator, though, but of a fan of his gentle and positive persona. 

"My biggest concern was … what if that's not really who he was? But I spoke to his friends, coworkers, the people that spent the most time with him and … what I found out was that, no, the guy that you see on the screen really was that guy. He was genuine. He would give you the shirt off his back," she said.

"Bob Ross really was, sincerely, that wonderful, gentle human being."

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. 

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