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December 12, 2020

The spirit of painter Bob Ross endures in Muncie

Bob Ross on the set of The Joy of Painting, which was taped in the studios of WIPB-TV in Muncie. The painting instructor's legacy is being celebrated by The Bob Ross Experience at Muncie's Minnetrista museum complex. Courtesy WIPB-TV.

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 CNN, The 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."


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Roadtrip: Virtual tour of the galleries at the Herron School of Art and Design

Artwork by Sarah Strong in the Graduate Thesis Exhibition at the Herron School of Art and Design. Virtual tour technology lets online visitors explore the gallery via computer, moving about and viewing the artwork from different distances and angles.

Undaunted by the limitations imposed by Covid-19, guest Roadtripper and Hoosier History Live associate producer Mick Armbruster invites us to join him on a cyber excursion to the Herron School of Art and Design on the IUPUI campus, where three current exhibitions are all available in a "virtual tour" format that Mick says feels almost like being there physically.

Even if virtual reality is new to you, Mick says you shouldn't  be intimidated. Exploring these exhibits is as easy as pointing, clicking, and scrolling, and you'll very quickly get the hang of how to move around the virtual space of the galleries. Moreover, the Herron virtual tours allow visitors to gain different vantage points on each collection as a whole, as well as view individual artworks from different angles and distances.

Of the three current exhibits, Mick suggests that we start with the Graduate Thesis Exhibition, which showcases an eclectic mix of pieces from six recent grads. Some of the artworks feel fairly traditional, while others push boundaries as they make social commentary. 

And if you're still hungry for more, you can check out the Herron virtual tour versions of A Tacit Inheritance: Elizabeth M. Claffey & Rania Matar, whose work explores experiences of women across generations and cultures. Also available for virtual exploration: David Plunkert–The Visual Communi-gator, whose work you might recognize from his many magazine covers and book designs.

So while the virus may keep you at home physically, join Mick on this intriguing virtual Roadtrip to cyberspace to explore the Herron School's collection of visual art.

History Mystery

Our mystery cartoonist, a graduate of the Ball State art school, works on a sketch for his popular comic strip. Who is he?

The city of Muncie, Ind., is home not only to the Minnetrista cultural museum complex, but also Ball State University, including its School of Art. The most famous graduate of Ball State's art school is a cartoonist. For more than 20 years, his creation has been the most widely syndicated comic strip in newspapers around the world.

The future cartoonist, a native Hoosier, attended Ball State during the 1960s. In 2016, he became an adjunct professor at Ball State's School of Art.

Question: Who is the cartoonist?

The call-in number is (317) 788-3314. Please do not call in to the show until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air, and please do not try to win if you have won any other prize on WICR during the last two months. You must be willing to give your first name to our engineer, you must answer the question correctly on the air and you must be willing to give your mailing address to our engineer so we can mail the prize pack to you.

The prizes this week are wo tickets to the Indiana State Museum, courtesy of the Indiana State Museum, and two tickets to the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, courtesy of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.


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December 19, 2020 - coming up

Reflections of a pop music critic

A collection of tour posters from musical acts appearing in Indiana in the 1970s and '80s. Venues include the State Fair Grounds Coliseum and Market Square Arena, as well as more obscure locales such as "West Side High Gym" in Gary, where The Jackson Five performed.

One of his final stories for The Indianapolis Star focused on a new website full of details about more than 55 years of concerts:

David LindquistFor more than 22 of those years, David Lindquist has written about pop music and culture for The Star, reviewing concerts through three name changes for the venue that opened as Deer Creek Music Center (it's now Ruoff), covering the transition from Market Square Arena to Bankers Life Fieldhouse,  interviewing notables like John Mellencamp and describing the rise of Fountain Square as a nightlife destination.

In August 2011, Dave was in the audience for an outdoor concert at the Indiana State Fair, preparing to write a review, when high winds caused the stage rigging to collapse, resulting in, as he puts it, "a tragedy directly in front of me." Seven people were killed and 58 injured after a severe windstorm struck the stage and equipment just before a Sugarland concert was about to begin.

In the wake of Dave Lindquist's departure from The Star - he was among several veteran journalists who accepted buyout offers from Gannett, the newspaper's parent company - he will be Nelson's guest to share reflections about concerts, venues and celebrity Hoosiers whom he has interviewed. In addition to Mellencamp and other music icons, Dave has had several interviews with (and reported on the multi-media endeavors of) Indianapolis-based novelist John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars and other bestsellers.

The Slippery Noodle Inn, the oldest continuously operated tavern in the state and one of the most distinctive venues for blues music in Indiana.Last month, Dave reported the death of the owner of one of the most distinctive venues for blues music in Indiana. The Slippery Noodle Inn in downtown Indy opened in 1850 and is the oldest continuously operated tavern in the state. Hal Yeagy took over "The Noodle"  in the mid-1980s from his father and transformed the historic bar (which had about half a dozen names over the decades) into a blues music destination patronized by well-known figures like Peyton Manning

Hal, who died at age 63 in November, was a Hoosier History Live guest in 2008 to discuss the colorful heritage of the venue; in addition its historic distinction as a tavern, the building at 372 S. Meridian St. is considered to be the oldest commercial structure in the Hoosier capital.

The scores of other venues where Dave Lindquist has reviewed concerts range from the lawn at White River State Park to the Murat Theatre (he calls it "an amazing place to catch a show") and Bankers Life, which opened in 1999 as Conseco Fieldhouse; its predecessor as a pro basketball arena and concert venue, Market Square Arena, was imploded in 2001. "Bankers Life Fieldhouse has a bad reputation for its acoustics, which is partially earned but partially an unfair label," he says.

Dave plans to continue his career in entertainment journalism following his departure from The Star. During his career at the newspaper, he created and hosted "Indy Star Sessions," a live music video webcast, as well as a podcast, "Dave's Old Interview Tapes."
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