Ever make any mistakes in life? Let’s make them birds. Yeah, they’re birds now.

~Bob Ross

*First things first—Bob Ross wanted to get rid of the perm, but it became too associated with his show. Instead, he went BIG with it.

We’re not exactly sure why we love Bob Ross, but we do. It’s not the puffball perm, or the unbuttoned polyester shirt. While the 403 episodes of The Joy of Painting get high marks for quantity, the show’s production values defined minimalism: two cameras, two shots, black background, and the grainy graphics. And, although we love him, it wasn’t his artistry. Bob was a good painter, but not a great technical artist, something he readily admitted himself.


Whatever attracts us to his show—now more popular than ever in this quarantine world—it was enough to create The Bob Ross Experience in Muncie, Indiana, inside the very studio Bob filmed The Joy of Painting from 1984 to 1994. Here, visitors can immerse themselves not only in the history of Bob’s life, but in their own artistry with this unique collection of interactive exhibits and activities.

Of the roughly 1,000 works artist Bob Ross completed for The Joy of Panting…91% contain at least one tree (he favored deciduous trees slightly at 56%). 39% had mountains, and 22% had TWO mountains. Only 36% of his works had grass, and he only painted at least one “happy little bush” on 30% of his landscapes. There is no mistaking his bias towards nature though: only 22% of his canvases had any artificial structure (barns, cabins, bridges, or paths).

~Data from “A Statistical Analysis of the Work of Bob RossFiveThirtyEight

The REAL artistry arrived in Bob Ross’s personality and presence. He spent two decades (1961-1981) in the Air Force and retired a Master Sergeant, the second-highest enlisted rank in that branch. By the time he left service, his paintings brought in more income than his military pay. He frequently painted the landscape surrounding his posting, Alaska’s Eielson Air Force Base. Soon his military career fell by the wayside for painting. Only 41, Bob Ross decided to pursue painting wholeheartedly and developed his calm, soft-spoken persona, completely at odds with his former employment.

“Serious” artists didn’t take Bob’s work seriously, but that meant little to him. “This is art for anyone who’s ever wanted to put a dream on canvas,” Ross said in a 1994 appearance on The Phil Donahue Show. “It’s not traditional art. It’s not fine art. And I don’t try to tell anybody it is.” Despite his commercial success, Bob Ross never suffered the professional backlash that kitsch artist Thomas Kinkade would years later, largely because Ross never tried to commercialize his work…and painted them all himself (Kinkade did not). In fact, the majority of the work created during The Joy of Painting remains in storage.

Muncie’s new Bob Ross Experience is only the latest in a continuing trend of Ross resurgence. Until a few years ago, his serene show aired on PBS, coupled with a line of respectable Bob Ross oil painting supplies. In 2015, the Twitch streaming service aired a marathon of The Joy of Painting. Over 5 million watchers tuned in. The next year, a Bob Ross YouTube channel began and now has over 4.3 million subscribers. He’s even gained professional recognition: the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Museum of American History have displayed his work (something that would, no doubt, delight Ross himself).

The Bob Ross Experience promises to be the latest and most interesting celebration of Ross’ legacy. It combines the history of his unique life, a behind-the-scenes look at his popular show, interactive exhibits, and coolest of all, a hands-on painting session guided by none other than Bob Ross himself…or at least a filmed version of him.

The Bob Ross Experience is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 9 AM to 5 PM, and Sunday from Noon to 5 PM. Tickets are available online. Cost: $8 adult/$6 kids for Indiana residents or $15 adult/$12 kids for non-residents.

Photo by Junior Libby