Step Into Bob Ross’ Studio With This New, Interactive Experience

An exhibition in Indiana enables art lovers to explore the painter’s refurbished workshop

Bob Ross
The prolific painter is the subject of a new exhibition in Muncie, Indiana. Courtesy of Minnetrista

For more than a decade, Bob Ross’ hit PBS show, “The Joy of Painting,taught audiences how to create breathtaking landscapes dotted with “happy trees,” “almighty mountains” and “fluffy clouds.” And though the American artist died in 1995, his calm demeanor, mellifluous voice and upbeat attitude have ensured his enduring popularity to this day.

Now, reports Sarah Bahr for the New York Times, an interactive, $1.2 million exhibition in Indiana is paying homage to the prolific painter. Titled the “Bob Ross Experience,” the permanent installation is on view at the Minnetrista museum in Muncie, Indiana, where Ross filmed his television series between 1983 and 1994.

Open to visitors every Wednesday through Sunday, the show offers 15 masked visitors per hour the chance to explore Ross’ refurbished studio, which is located in the former WIPB public television station at the museum’s Lucius L. Ball House.

“We made it as close as possible to how it appeared when he filmed here,” George Buss, vice president of visitor experience at Minnetrista, tells the Times.

Among the items on display are Ross’ paintbrushes, easel and palette, as well as the Vicks VapoRub he used to clear his sinuses, his hair pick, his shirts and his keys. Unusually, visitors are allowed to touch and interact with a number of the replica objects featured.

“We really wanted people to be immersed in the space,” says Buss. “We have little discoverables everywhere, and we know people will find new things each time they visit.”

By his own count, Bob Ross painted some 30,000 paintings during his lifetime. Photo by Acey Harper / The Life Images Collection via Getty Images
The "Bob Ross Experience" is housed in the American artist's refurbished studio. Courtesy of Minnetrista
Visitors can interact with a number of the artifacts on view. Courtesy of Minnetrista
Visitors can enroll in a Bob Ross painting workshop. Courtesy of Minnetrista

In addition to admiring the six Ross paintings on view in the “Bob Ross Experience,” fans can sign up for a $70 art workshop or stop by a related exhibition titled “Bob Ross at Home: Artist, Teacher, Friend.” As Brian Boucher reports for artnet News, the temporary show features “a few dozen” of Ross’ works, the majority of which are on loan from locals and have never previously been exhibited.

Per the Times, the Indiana extravaganza has already generated significant buzz: More than 100 zealous fans from across the country attended the exhibition’s sold-out opening on October 31; some visitors even participated in costume contests, dressing as painted landscapes or fun caricatures of the beloved painter.

“Bob Ross has an incredible, fearless creativity,” says Buss to artnet News. “There is a confidence and a positivity that no matter how bad it looks on the canvas, it’s gonna turn out. He takes what looks like a mistake and turns it into something beautiful, and he spends the entire time telling you that what he’s doing is not special, not heroic. It’s something you can do, too. So there’s an empowerment to be as powerful and as fearless as he is.”

Enthusiasm for Ross is nothing new, and in recent years, the television personality has actually appeared to be growing in popularity. In 2015, some 5.6 million people tuned in to a “Joy of Painting” marathon hosted by live streaming platform Twitch. Currently, the artist’s YouTube channel boasts more than four million subscribers.

Ross is also gaining acceptance within the art world after decades of dismissal as “kitsch.” Last spring, four of his works appeared in a group exhibition at the DePaul Art Museum in Chicago. Around the same time, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History acquired a number of the PBS host’s artworks and artifacts

“Put aside your prejudices of Bob Ross and think of him as a true artist,” DePaul curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm told the Art Newspaper’s Jason Foumberg last May. “I’ve been interested in his [cultural] ubiquity yet distance from the art world.”

The “Bob Ross Experience” is on permanent display at the Minnetrista museum in Muncie, Indiana.