By Julie Campbell
The Bob Ross exhibit is now open in the former WIPB studios
“We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.” If this quote rings a bell, you probably know who Bob Ross is. The puffy-haired, gentle-voiced star of the iconic series, “The Joy of Painting,” took PBS by storm in the ’80s and ’90s with a weekly show that encouraged artists of all skill levels to keep stretching their creative muscles.
What you might not know is that Bob Ross filmed around six years of his iconic show in a studio at the historic L.L. Ball Home in Muncie, Indiana, which is now part of the Minnetrista museum campus.
Twenty-five years after his untimely death from cancer at age 52, the country’s most famous painter’s story is coming to life in what will be a permanent exhibit in the former WIPB studios. Dubbed “The Bob Ross Experience,” the exhibit features the actual studio where Ross painted during the taping of his show from 1983 to 1988.
As the museum began testing the idea for the exhibit, they placed an X on the floor right where Ross stood to paint during his shows.
“When we showed visitors that X, it was almost always followed by, ‘Can I stand on it? Can I take my picture there?’ And some people actually just cried,” says George Buss, vice president of visitor experience at Minnetrista. “It showed us that there is a true emotional power to this, and the power is in the place, first and foremost. And as a museum, when you’re sitting on a story that’s so embedded in the place, you can’t help but to tell it.”
Jessica Jenkins, the museum’s vice president of collections and storytelling, agrees. But for her, there’s an even more magical element to the exhibit.
“What I really love about this exhibit is all of the layers—kind of like the layers of paint that go on top of a canvas. We have this power of place, but we can bring on top of that really personal stories from our community,” she says. “Layer on top of the stories the ‘real stuff’—Bob’s actual easel that he used, his actual palette that he held. And when you’re able to take all of those things and layer them together, the storytelling element of this really explodes.”
After extensive testing and research, Minnetrista officials shared the vision for the exhibit with Bob Ross Inc., and it was met with enthusiasm.
“Our vision is to help reframe the way people think about their mistakes and their creativity and their self-expression,” explains Buss. “We want to amplify Bob’s legacy and amplify the message he so clearly stated through his show. When we shared that vision with the Bob Ross company and talked to them about the power of the place, well, the rest is history.”
The exhibit will require the purchase of a timed ticket so the museum can adhere to social distancing guidelines in the L.L. Ball Home, which will house an orientation area, the actual studio, and a late 1980s-style living room where viewers would have originally watched “The Joy of Painting.”
While the Bob Ross Experience will take about an hour to tour, Buss says first-time visitors to Minnetrista should plan on about five hours if they want to tour the entire campus, including the main building and its galleries, the Oakhurst experience, the outdoor nature area and the gardens. In accordance with the current Indiana mandate, the museum requires masks in indoor spaces.
“We’re a forty-acre campus, so we have a lot of outdoor spaces where you can take your mask off and walk around and stretch your legs and your lungs,” he explains.
Plans for Minnetrista’s ever-popular annual holiday Enchanted Luminaria Walk are still evolving along with the news and the coronavirus numbers.
“We’re currently exploring our options,” Buss explains. “What I can say is that we’ve found a way to do other programs, whether they be online or outdoors. We are dedicated to finding creative ways to still bring to the community a kick-off to the holidays. We just don’t know what it’s going to look like yet, so we encourage people to keep checking the website for updates.”
For more information on the Bob Ross Experience or other Minnetrista programs, visit www.minnetrista.net.