Photo of Bob Ross provided by Bob Ross, Inc.

Ball State University has a 40-year-old tie to the iconic Bob Ross and the ‘The Joy of Painting’ show. Hear from those who knew the famous painting instructor—and those who continue to celebrate his legacy today.

It’s been 40 years since most Americans were introduced to Bob Ross—the iconic artist with a soothing voice, friendly smile, and bushy, reddish hair—through “The Joy of Painting.” This wildly popular Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) painting instruction show maintains a huge, worldwide fan base through reruns aired currently.

In 1983, the show became available for numerous PBS Member stations throughout America to broadcast. By the end of that year, nearly 100 PBS stations were either broadcasting the show or picked it up for broadcasting the following year. Thirty seasons of the half-hour long show, filmed over more than 10 years, were produced at the Muncie, Ind., studio of Ball State University’s WIPB-TV, predecessor to today’s Ball State PBS—which is part of Ball State Public Media. Mr. Ross had filmed some of the show’s early episodes at another PBS Member station by the time he arrived in Muncie, but the show was not widely available across America prior to 1983.

It didn’t take long for it to become clear that Bob Ross was, and continues to be, as well-liked as the show. With the growth in the show’s popularity and Bob Ross through the years, many stations worldwide began broadcasting “The Joy of Painting. Some of the show’s at-home students decided to share Bob Ross’ painting technique with others by becoming Certified Ross Instructors®. Even celebrities, such as actor David Arquette (“Scream”), earned the certification.

“I fell in love with Bob Ross and his painting technique like many people did: watching him when I was younger creating incredible works of art right before my eyes,” Mr. Arquette said. “His effortless calm, his masterful skill, and general angelic nature drew me to him and his work in a way that made me want to create art like him and inspire others to do the same.”

Bob Ross passed away in 1995. But his legacy of positively impacting people has transcended generations, reaching individuals through a show that has remained culturally relevant and continues to withstand the test of time.

Episodes of “The Joy of Painting are viewed by millions of people around the world today. His popularity through the decades has earned Bob Ross a firm place as a cultural icon who has significance in the art world, public broadcasting history, and society in general.

Two people with Ball State ties—both of whom knew Bob Ross personally—share how this unique art instructor impacted them.

Chris Taylor, associate lecturer of Media and senior director of Sports Production at Ball State

When you are told that there is something—a spark, a light, a talent—in you, that acknowledgment and encouragement can mean so much.

Chris Taylor had that meaningful experience with Bob Ross. In his teen years, Mr. Taylor was one of Bob Ross’ students. The mentorship grew from there.

Sharing what he got out of that experience is one of Mr. Taylor’s ways of paying forward the encouragement and tutelage that Mr. Ross showed him. Mr. Taylor was a middle schooler when he began taking in-person lessons from Bob Ross. Here is what Mr. Taylor said about Mr. Ross during an on-camera interview with WRTV Indianapolis reporter Ray Steele in October 2022:

“He was always an encourager. He was exactly as he was on television, in person. He saw something in me. And for that, I am extremely grateful. We developed this wonderful relationship up through the last six to seven, eight years or more of his life. We painted together and he taught me some stuff. Really, much more about life than painting.

Now 30-some years later, for me to be a Certified Ross Instructor® and kind of carry his legacy forward—I feel very, very passionate about it.”

Mr. Taylor appeared on WRTV in Indianapolis to promote “Happy Little Fest,” a festival presented by Ball State PBS and Bob Ross Inc. Held Oct. 29, 2022—which would’ve been Mr. Ross’ 80th birthday—the fest celebrated the life and impact of Bob Ross. The fest also commemorated Ball State Public Media’s 50th year on the air, a milestone reached in 2021.

Mr. Taylor was one of the Certified Ross Instructors® at the fest. He taught Bob Ross’ painting technique to children at the event.

Jim Needham, former general manager of WIPB and retired Ball State professor

“The Joy of Painting and Bob Ross greatly impacted Jim Needham. Mr. Needham was the general manager of WIPB when Bob Ross came to Muncie more than 40 years ago. The resulting work relationship between these two men eventually spurred their longtime friendship.

“The way I was impacted as a general manager, I became more confident that we could do productions that were valued by almost every station in the country,” explained Mr. Needham.

“The other thing that Bob gave me was his positivity,” Mr. Needham added. “Bob had a really positive attitude about everything. He was authentic. He was who he was, off-camera and on. He was not somebody that complained. He would just always look at what was right instead of what was wrong. He saw opportunities instead of obstacles.”

That positivity and authenticity were among the many hallmarks of Mr. Ross’s approach to teaching on the show, instructing on his painting techniques and sharing so much more in the process.

“He had an irrepressible optimism, and he had the discipline to teach what he needed to in the time in which he needed to do it. He did it in such a way that he wouldn’t out-distance his students; that he wouldn’t do things that they couldn’t do. That discipline was a gift,” Mr. Needham said.

“Bob saw things in his viewers that they did not see in themselves,” he added. “When people at home were watching and learning to paint with him, they’d figure out how to do it and succeed. You’ll find that when you focus on what’s right—and look for opportunities to make something positive when things go wrong—you create a habit pattern.”

Soon, that habit becomes second nature, Mr. Needham added: “As you watch Bob a lot, you develop that habit of looking at the good in things and finding those opportunities when things go wrong. That’s a boost to one’s quality of life. That’s a gift I hope was received by anyone who watched Bob Ross on TV or who knew him. And it’s a gift I hope we would share with others. I think that’s what Bob would want.”

Mr. Needham shared a story to illustrate his point. At a children’s painting session at Happy Little Fest last Fall, Mr. Needham watched as Chris Taylor taught. He saw a little boy’s picture fall face-down on a table.

“The little boy picked up his painting and his face went like this,” Mr. Needham continued, his mouth forming a frown like the one he saw on the disappointed child’s face. “Chris said to the boy, ‘Oh, this is a great opportunity! Look what we can do with this!’ Chris picked up a paper towel and wiped the paint off the tabletop. Then, Chris picked up the brush and said to the boy, ‘Now we’re going to do this…” The boy, with Chris’ guidance, created a new painting, to the boy’s delight. What Chris did is what Bob would’ve done, and Bob would’ve been proud if he’d witnessed that interaction. No question. Seeing that kind of happy accident shows us, in an indelible way, that Bob’s spirit is alive and well in all of us.”

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