A new exhibition featuring Bob Ross’s iconic, cheerful landscapes is open at the Mims Gallery in Rocky Mount, NC until January 4th, 2024.
The display, billed as “The World’s Largest Bob Ross Painting Exhibition” features an in person glimpse of 75 paintings, a fraction of Ross’s estimated 30,000+ pieces (more art than Picasso). Other than this exhibit, the only other opportunity to witness an original Bob Ross is the 59 painting collection at Bob Ross Art Workshop in Florida. The Smithsonian Institute also has six paintings, but they’re not currently on display.
Yet during The Joy of Painting’s 9 years on PBS, Bob Ross produced three copies of every painting he created on air for a total of 1,143 paintings created in 26 minutes or less at a makeshift studio in Muncie, Ind. Ross also painted numerous works for charity in addition to a volume of work from his earlier career as a traveling art teacher. If you’re truly curious, fivethirtyeight has data on every cabin (69 total), cloud (often cumulus with 14% chance of a cirrus formation) and tree (plural, if Ross painted a tree there’s a 93% chance he painted another one) that was ever created on The Joy of Painting.
So why is it so rare to see a Bob Ross painting?
Part of the problem is accessibility. Following Ross’s death in 1995 at age 52 his name, likeness, paintings and property down to each individual paintbrush became the subject of several, fierce lawsuits against Ross’s estate by his longtime business partners Walt and Annette Kowalski, majority stakeholders at Bob Ross Inc. Although some stray paintings exist, one of which sold for $10 million this September, the vast majority sit in storage at the Bob Ross Inc headquarters in Chantilly, VA.
Historically, the only way to see a Bob Ross painting was watching reruns of The Joy of Painting, captured live before the paint of his “wet on wet” technique had time to dry. Instead of auctioning art to museums or organizing regular exhibitions, Bob Ross Inc has focused on monetizing Ross’s likeness on t-shirts, branded paint, and Mountain Dew commercials.
Perhaps that’s the “happy accident” Ross would’ve wanted. “There are thousands of very, very talented artists who will never be known, even after they are dead,” Ross said to the NYTimes in 1991. “Most painters want recognition, especially by their peers. I achieved that a long time ago with TV. I don’t need any more.”
But if you want to see how the paint dried after the cameras cut or spot the tweaks between triplicate copies of each Joy of Painting production, tickets to the Mims Gallery exhibition are $15 and are available online.