Bob Ross paints, Bob Ross brushes, Bob Ross underwear and Bob Ross toasters – all of these are easy to buy. But not his works. The search for clues leads to Virginia.
Bob Ross is iconic. The TV painter with a voluminous hairstyle and a soporific voice created countless kitsch works and has many fans even after his death. However, his pictures are difficult to find. Why?
For his television program “The Joy of Painting,” which aired for more than eleven years alone, Ross painted hundreds of landscapes with “happy little trees,” “almighty mountains,” and “fluffy clouds.” The US news site 538, which specializes in statistics and data, counted exactly: Ross painted a total of 381 pictures in the show. He made three versions of each work. The first was painted before the broadcast and served as a reference for the second version, which Ross painted during the nearly half-hour recording, with occasional spontaneous improvisations. The third painting was created after the shipment for Bob Ross textbooks. In total that makes 1143 works.
Only a fraction of them were sold. A spectacular exception is the first work that Bob Ross painted on television in 1983, “A Walk in the Woods.” A US gallery is now offering it for sale – for almost ten million dollars.
A few years ago, the “New York Times” went looking for clues and found that almost all of the “Joy of Painting” works were in cardboard boxes – at the headquarters of Bob Ross Inc. in the city of Herndon in the US state of Virginia . Ross was a co-founder of the company, which is now run by Annette Kowalski and her daughter Joan.
Million dollar business
Annette Kowalski was a student of Ross, who also worked as a painting teacher during his time with the US military in Alaska and later concentrated entirely on this job. Bob Ross, his wife Jane, Annette Kowalski and her husband Walt pooled money together to finance the early television career of the later cult painter. They relied on the non-commercial station chain PBS, which produced a total of 31 seasons with more than 400 episodes from 1983 to 1994.
The company Bob Ross Inc was originally owned by the four business partners. All images painted by Ross as part of “Joy of Painting” were the property of the company. Jane Ross died in 1992, Bob Ross in 1995. This meant that the company and the paintings belonged solely to the Kowalskis. To this day they steadfastly refuse to sell Ross’s works. That “wasn’t really Bob’s thing,” Joan Kowalski told the New York Times.
This attitude could also be influenced by the fact that the company brought in a lot of money during Ross’s lifetime, even though the painter was not paid for his show. The four partners sold paints, painting supplies, instructional videos and fan items, earning millions of dollars annually, according to US media. “Our only job,” Kowalski said in an interview with US magazine “The Hustle,” “is to preserve the mythological miracle that was Bob Ross.”
You can also contribute to this by ensuring that only a few Ross paintings are on display in public. This increases the myth and the more you can earn from copyrights, licenses and merchandising. A kitsch work like “Walk in the woods” can only find a buyer for several million dollars if almost all of the paintings undoubtedly made by Ross are unsaleable and the cult status is intact.
30,000 pictures painted
The price might surprise even the Kowalskis. In recent years, whenever a Bob Ross painting has surfaced, it has sold for five-figure dollars. Previous highest price: $95,000. These are primarily works that were created as part of the show and were sold by the broadcaster chain with the consent of Ross and his business partners.
In an interview with the New York Times in 1991, Ross said that he had painted around 30,000 pictures. Before he became famous, he sold thousands of paintings for little money at flea markets and folk festivals, for example. They are likely to hang in rooms, hallways and closets or lie in boxes in cellars and attics. Very few owners are likely to know that the pictures of “happy little trees” come from Bob Ross.