As far as great artists go, many throughout the last hundred years have been incredibly creative, technically innovative, and well-respected within the art world. However, most of them are nowhere near close to being household names than painter and art instructor Bob Ross. And now, the very first painting he created on his legendary PBS show will soon be up for sale.
Bob Ross hosted The Joy of Painting on PBS between 1983 and 1994. With a wily perm, a voice made from audible melatonin, and a technique allowing him to speed-paint thousands of landscapes, Bob Ross has remained part of the American cultural consciousness close to thirty years after his death. Many younger people became more familiar with Bob Ross and The Joy of Painting after the streaming service Twitch hosted a nine-day Joy of Painting marathon to commemorate Ross’s 73rd birthday. Around 5.6 million people watched, with part of the money from advertising going to charity.
The Kowalski family owns almost all of the paintings Ross created for The Joy of Painting. Annette and Walt Kowalski were Ross’s business partners and the subjects of a 2021 Netflix documentary about their alleged exploitation of Ross and his image. Their daughter Joan now runs Bob Ross Inc., which owns a warehouse in Virginia with almost all of the works created for Ross’s show. However, a few of the show’s paintings belong to other owners. For example, the Smithsonian acquired four of them in 2019. The first painting ever created for the show, A Walk in the Woods, is currently owned by the Modern Artifact gallery in Minneapolis. They acquired the work from a former PBS volunteer who had worked on the show and bought it during a fundraising auction. This is not the first Bob Ross painting Modern Artifact has owned, though. The gallery currently owns one other Ross work and has sold close to fifty others.
Modern Artifact is now offering the work for $9,850,000. Ryan Nelson, the owner of Modern Artifact, arrived at this hefty price tag not only because of its rarity but because of nostalgia and prominence on social media that has led to “an increased interest by the general public”. However, the gallery has also expressed its desire to exhibit the work and even take it on tour. Thus, the number becomes a good way to fend off any prospective buyers, allowing the gallery to do this.