The beloved American painter Bob Ross remains incredibly popular today, 24 years after his passing. In his instructional TV show over 11 years, Ross painted over 1,000 landscapes, walking his public television viewership through each one.
“I talk to only one person when I’m filming, and I’m really crazy about that person. It’s a one-on-one situation—and I think people realize that, and they feel that they know me and I feel that I know them,” Ross said in a 2011 PBS documentary. Despite his past as a drill sergeant, Ross believed in teaching through building the other person up, supporting their choices and mistakes.
“Let your imagination take you to worlds that only exist in your mind,” he said in one episode. “No bad stuff here. That’s why we have happy little trees. Everything’s happy here.”
Bob Ross Inc., the company he founded during the course of the TV series with his business partner and fellow artist Annette Kowalski, still rolls along. They sell painting supplies, instructional books, and other Bob Ross-themed paraphernalia. Buoyed by having released every episode of “The Joy of Painting” on YouTube, Bob Ross Inc. has been enjoying a resurgence in popularity.
Bob Ross Inc. still owns most of Ross’s paintings. Many were donated to friends and visitors by Ross himself, but since his passing, they closed the vault. They have over 1,000 paintings by him, and none have ever been sold.
When the Smithsonian requested a few paintings and some of Ross’s own supplies, Kowalski was inspired to share Ross’s work. On September 10, the first large public showing of Bob Ross originals opened at the Franklin Park Arts Center in Purcellville, Virginia. True to Ross’s memory, tickets are free to the public, and further exhibitions across the U.S. and Canada are planned for 2020, as well as a few in Europe.
Bob Ross never expected to be famous for his art. He did not care if it had universal appeal, he wanted it to have universal accessibility.
“I’m trying to teach a form of art that anybody can do,” he said in 1994.