Air Force vet Bob Ross painting on sale for a happy little $9.85M

Miguel Ortiz
Sep 15, 2023 7:01 PM PDT
3 minute read
Bob Ross in Air Force uniform and later in life

SUMMARY

USAF veteran Bob Ross was truly one in a million. Now, his first painting from his iconic tv show is going for almost $10 million.

Bob Ross is famous for his calm voice, positive attitude and beautiful works of art created on his popular television show The Joy of Painting. Broadcast on public television for over 11 years, the show had 31 seasons that saw Ross host 403 episodes. Each show began with a blank canvas and ended with Ross finishing his work of art. The piece from the show's first episode is now on sale for nearly $10 million.

Ross paints "A Walk in the Woods" for the first episode of The Joy of Painting (WNVC)

A Walk in the Woods

On January 11, 1983, "A Walk in the Woods" aired on PBS. During the episode, Ross painted a peaceful forest scene with water. The piece incorporated Ross' iconic "happy little trees" colored by the golden light of the sun, juxtaposed by the jewel-like blue of the water. In the episode, Ross tells viewers, "I hope you have your brush ready, and a dream in your heart." In contrast, Ross was a bit more aggressive with his encouragement as an Air Force NCO.

Air Force Master Sgt. Bob Ross gives a painting demonstration at a retirement home in Fairbanks, Alaska (U.S. Air Force)

Bob Ross Air Force Career

Before he became the Mister Rogers of art, Ross served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. In 1961, at the age of 18, he enlisted and specialized as a medical records technician. Rising to the rank of master sergeant, Ross was "the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work," he recounted to the Orlando Sentinel. As a result, he decided that he would not raise his voice again after leaving the military. Ross' service further influenced his painting career as he developed an interest in the field after attending a USO art class while stationed in Alaska.

"A Walk in the Woods" has a list price of $9.85M (Modern Artifact)

For the show's production, Ross created three versions of each painting; one painted prior to taping that sat off-camera and was used as a template, another that viewers watched Ross paint based on the first, and a more detailed final version for inclusion in instructional books. The version of "A Walk in the Woods" that is for sale is the one painted on camera. It was donated to the Fall Church, Virginia PBS station and auctioned off for a November 1983 station fundraiser. The winning bidder was a volunteer at the station who sold the painting to a Minneapolis gallery, Modern Artifact, in 2022. Ross died July 4, 1995, at the age of 52, due to complications from lymphoma.

The gallery's list price of $9.85M is a reflection of Ross' popularity. However, the gallery intentionally did not price the piece to sell. "We are seeing a huge demand for his original works, which are hard to come by," said Modern Artifact's Ryan Nelson in a statement. "It is hard to put a value on the piece given the movement, the popularity and the fact that this is the very first on-air painting on The Joy of Painting. If someone were to make a seven-figure offer, we would, of course, consider that. Until then, we plan to tour this Bob Ross painting that started it all."

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