Bob Ross on The Joy of Painting

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The drive to Franklin Park Performing and Visual Arts Center in Purcellville, Virginia, is as scenic and full of nature as one of Bob Ross’ paintings. The gorgeous greenery and farmland are signs of what’s to come at the center.

It’s worth every mile.

The center’s latest exhibition, Happy Accidents: An Exhibit of Original Bob Ross Paintings, is an ode to the silky-voiced, curly-haired painter of PBS’ The Joy of Painting. It’s the first exhibit of original Ross paintings on the East Coast, and it’s presented in partnership with Bob Ross Inc., which has headquarters in Northern Virginia.

“Bob would have just absolutely loved everything about what’s going on today,” Joan Kowalski, president of Bob Ross Inc., said at the exhibition’s opening reception.

The exhibition itself is an embodiment of the joy of painting and the joy of Bob Ross. His smiling face can be seen in the caption of every painting, each featuring a quote from the man himself—something he said while painting the particular picture on the show. Each of the 24 paintings is from the 1993 season of The Joy of Painting, and they span winter, spring, summer, and fall. Fans of The Joy of Painting will find a cozy home here. Those unfamiliar with Ross and his work can bask in his affable cheer.

“Happy accidents” was one of his favorite phrases to use in reference to painting mistakes. “You have happy accidents. And those happy accidents turn out to be some of the most fantastic things that can happen,” he said. This is also the caption for “First Snow,” a portrait of early winter in which the pink and blue colors of the skies combine.

Because of Ross’ charming manner of speaking, each painting’s caption is full of his energy. “Glacier Lake,” a painting full of his favorite formations and plants—mountains and trees—features the caption “Painting is such an individual thing and each person sees nature through different eyes. And how you see it is the way it should be painted.”

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Happy Accidents serves as a platform to tell the world that Ross was both a television painter and personality, and a gifted artist. His talent often gets buried in his accessibility. His positive spirit and ability to convince an audience of painting novices that they too could paint stunning nature scenes was something to treasure. But his work, as displayed in Happy Accidents, is genuinely lovely as well.

The winter painting “Aurora’s Dance” is a picturesque vision of the Northern Lights in Alaska. “Arctic Winter Day” is another winter stunner; “you better get out your heavy coat,” its caption reads.

“Sunset Aglow” is a swirl of setting sunlight, and its accompanying quote displays exactly how Ross would speak to his audience, guiding them to create their own universes. “Maybe in our world, there lives a big old cloud right up in here. He just sort of floats around and has a good time all day. You know, clouds are one of the freest things in nature I believe. So, just let them go. Shoot, let them have fun.”

Everything wasn’t always peaceful in Ross’ paintings. “Storm’s-a-Comin’” features a wild, rocky sea and dark skies. But you still can’t shake the warmth with which Ross painted. Stepping into almost any one of these works seems like idyllic bliss.

The name of each piece showcases his undying admiration of pastoral life and the natural world—from “Home Before Nightfall” to “Daisies at Dawn,” from “Splendor of Autumn” to “Trace of Spring.” Ross, who was from Florida, developed this proclivity toward nature as a young man, and began painting after being transferred to Alaska while serving in the Air Force. He went on to become an iconic figure, a fixture of half-hour television. The Joy of Painting lasted for 31 seasons, and sits at 403 episodes strong. Ross died in 1995, but he and his show and his art live on.

Thanks to Happy Accidents allowing Ross to speak for himself through quotes, he gives his own thoughts on his time in Alaska in the accompanying caption for “Aurora’s Dance:” “But in the wintertime, it’s dark a lot in Alaska. Where I lived, it got down to under four hours of daylight. Yes, you’d go to work and it was dark; you’d come home and it was dark. And that bothers a lot of people, but I didn’t mind. I find as much beauty in the winter in Alaska as I did in the summer.”  

In the theater, a documentary about Ross and an episode of The Joy of Painting play on a loop, inviting visitors to revel in Ross’ calming voice and enjoy a look at who he was as a person, and how he built up an adoring audience through the years. 

Going through the seasons of Ross at the Franklin Park Arts Center is a great way to spend an early fall weekend, or even just an hour or two. His philosophies are plastered all over the exhibition—“If painting does nothing else for you, it should make you happy.”

To Oct. 15 at 36441 Blueridge View Lane, Purcellville. Free. (540) 338-7973. franklinparkartscenter.org.