It’s not due to scarcity. Ross pumped out three nearly-identical paintings per episode of his series, The Joy of Painting (watch them online here). That’s 403 episodes over the course of 31 seasons on public television—or 1209 canvases of clouds, mountains, and “happy little trees.”
Shouldn’t economics dictate that these would have only increased in value following their creator’s untimely death from lymphoma in 1995?
A handful have been donated to the Smithsonian National Museum Of American History’s permanent collection. Leaving those aside, why are there no Bob Rosses fetching high prices on the auction block?
Is the painter’s legendary hypnotic appeal a factor? Did he subconsciously manipulate even the most cutthroat collectors into a state of sentimental attachment wherein profit matters not a jot?
As The New York Times-produced video above points out, Ross’ great mission in life was to get others painting—quickly and joyfully.
Which is not to say he blithely tossed the fruits of his labor into the incinerator after that purpose had been served.
The reason Ross’ paintings aren’t on the market is they’re neatly stacked in cardboard cartons at Bob Ross Inc. in Herndon, Virginia. It hardly constitutes archival storage, but the boxes are neatly numbered, and everything is accounted for.
And that is where they’re likely to remain, according to executive assistant Sarah Strohl and president Joan Kowalski, the daughter of Ross’ longtime business partner. (Her mother, Annette is Ross’ former student and the foremost authenticator of his work.)
For now, if anyone endeavors to sell you a Bob Ross original, it’s safe to assume it’s a fake.
Be forewarned, though, it’s won’t be as easy as the ever-placid master made it seem. Have a look at these comedians scrambling to keep up with his moves for the Bob Ross Challenge, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Ross, of course, never broke a sweat on camera, which lends a bit of cognitive dissonance to the Times’ video’s frenetic editing. (I never thought I’d have to issue a seizure warning for something Bob Ross-related, but those canvases flash by awfully quickly at the 1:09 mark and again at 10:36. )
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine. Join her in NYC on September 9 for the kick off of another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.