By DARLA MCCAMMON
Lakeland Art Association
WARSAW — When He picked up a 4-inch wide paint brush and began talking to us as he dabbled some of his “happy little clouds,” on a canvas, we (but not the art critics) learned to love watching him. We were fascinated as he worked his sometimes magical efforts into a credible painting. Yes, there were some garish, almost primitive results at times, but we were intrigued by his gentle, lovable character. We tuned in PBS often and watched as Bob Ross developed a scene straight out of his memories of Alaska. Yes, we would like to visit that enchanting place. Only about 10 percent of his viewers even tried to emulate or paint along with him as he was wont to encourage us. The rest of us merely wanted to take the journey with him and enjoy our weekly half hour escape from dreary reality!
Bob Ross was born in Daytona Beach, Florida in the second year of WWII—1942. Ross grew up learning carpentry from his father but had a disfiguring accident. He learned his love of nature and wildlife from his mother. At age 18 Ross enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Not long after this he experienced the culture shock of a transfer from Florida to beautiful Alaska where he became a drill sergeant. When his soft-spoken mannerisms attracted many fans, he was heard to say, “I yelled so much in the Air Force, I never wanted to yell at anyone again!”
Ross was self-taught but gave credit to another television artist – William Alexander whose program was called The Magic of Oil Painting. A technique called “alla prima” known today as “wet on wet” was employed by both men. This was a method used by many famous artists from the 16th century on—even Rembrandt.
Ross began selling his art and gave up his military career and part-time bartending job to devote all his time to painting. His opportunity to provide a program for PBS was a major turning point. His intended audience (potential artists and homebound people who wanted a hobby) was soon outflanked by millions who found his conversational painting style therapeutic and relaxing.
Do you remember the frizzy permed head of hair that became a trademark? He began the wild hair style when he was struggling to acquire students and sell paintings. It meant fewer expensive haircuts to keep it permed. It became such a part of his persona, he kept it up, even wearing a wig when he developed cancer and lost all his hair. The carpentry accident? His finger was cut off by a saw in his father’s woodworking shop. That is why he hid this disfigurement behind the painting palette held in his left hand with only his thumb exposed to our view. Questioned once about his “happy world,” Ross said, “I can make this world as happy as I want it… If you want bad stuff, watch the news.”
Ross lost the battle to cancer and died at the age of 52 on July 4, 1995. His work lives on and his television programs are still extremely popular. You can also visit his Bob Ross Workshop in New Smyrna Beach, Florida where you will be able to enjoy many happy little trees and clouds!
Upcoming and Current Events:
- New exhibit at Warsaw City Hall Art Gallery through February. Open 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Perry Olshein oil paintings on view.
- LAA gallery is closed for the season.
For more information on topics in this column, please contact Darla McCammon at [email protected] or (574) 527-4044. Columns will be available on this site soon, following our news media versions.