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Dec 23, 2020

Never mind that he died 25 years ago and that his low-budget TV show was filmed at a small public television station housed in a converted historic home.

Bushy-haired art instructor Bob Ross and The Joy of Painting series that he hosted are in the spotlight again, with CNNThe New York Times and other national media doing recent reports from Muncie

Jessical JenkinsThat's because Minnetrista, the cultural museum complex and gardens located in Muncie, has opened a permanent exhibit, The Bob Ross Experience, in a former home of one of the Ball Brothers, whose glass canning business introduced the iconic Mason jar.

The Lucius L. Ball House served as the location of the studio where WIPB, the public TV station in Muncie, filmed many of the episodes of the how-to-paint series that was an unexpected, national hit from 1983 until 1994, the year before Ross' death at age 52.

In addition to the multi-media exhibit that includes Ross' easel, palette, paint brushes, original paintings and other artifacts, The Bob Ross Experience offers programming that includes painting workshops using the techniques promoted by the beloved instructor.

"Bob Ross was such as a joyful personality, and the history of his connection to the Hoosier state is charming,” says Jessica Jenkins, vice president of collections and storytelling at Minnetrista, who will be Nelson's guest. 

A typical Bob Ross painting. In soothing tones, he encouraged students to see mistakes as "happy accidents."The 40-acre campus of Minnetrista includes several of the homes of the Ball brothers, who moved from upstate New York to Muncie in the 1880s to run their business, which became the nation's largest manufacturer of home-canning jars. (Lucius, the eldest brother, became a doctor in Muncie and was not involved in his siblings' company.)

Although Bob Ross was born and grew up in Florida, he became an itinerant art instructor and developed a relationship during his travels with WIPB-TV, the PBS affiliate in Muncie. For most of the run of The Joy of Painting, Ross came to Indiana for short visits to film multiple episodes of the series; Jessica Jenkins points out, however, that he actually lived in Muncie for a few years and was involved in community events.

The Ball brothers and their descendants also were known for their civic and philanthropic endeavors. WIPB was launched in the Lucius L. Ball House because his nephew Ed Ball (1905-2000) spearheaded the campaign that brought public TV to Muncie. The Joy of Painting became WIPB's most famous program and eventually was broadcast across the country, then overseas.

When the 30-minute show - during which Ross typically would complete an entire painting - drew millions of fans, the host became a pop culture icon. He was distinctive not only for his eye-catching hair, but for, as Indianapolis Monthly magazine recently put it, "his whisper-soft delivery, his half-hour masterpieces and his calming insistence that everyone has talent."

Some Bob Ross paintings have been acquired by the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. But our guest Jessica Jenkins notes that Minnetrista was the first museum to add his paintings to its collection, as well as the first, in 1991, to host an exhibition of his work. Today, Minnetrista owns 26 Ross paintings; some were created during episodes of The Joy of Painting, while others were done off-camera.

Some history facts:

  • The name Minnetrista, a blend of Native American and English words, is translated as "gathering place by the water." The Minnetrista campus is not far from the White River.
  • Bob Ross used an oil painting technique called "wet on wet." With this method, artists quickly apply layers of wet paint, finishing their artwork before the first layers have dried. Typically, Ross didn't create a sketch of his subject before he began to paint.
  • Ross died from complications of lymphoma in 1995. According to The New York Times, "his works  - if you can find one - have been offered for up to $55,000 on ebay."