First Bob Ross first TV painting for sale for nearly $10 million

MINNEAPOLIS — What would Bob Ross think?

The artist who brought painting to the people, with works completed for PBS viewers in less than a half-hour with little more than a large bristle brush, putty knife and plenty of encouragement, certainly wouldn’t have envisioned one of his works going up for sale for nearly $10 million.

But that’s the price a Minneapolis gallery is asking for “A Walk in the Woods,” the first of more than 400 paintings that Ross produced on-air for his TV series “The Joy of Painting.”

“It is season one, episode one of what you would call the rookie card for Bob Ross,” Ryan Nelson, who owns the gallery, Modern Artifact, said of the work created in the show’s debut, which aired Jan. 11, 1983.

Growing up in a small town, Nelson said he was introduced to art through Ross’ show and loves his paintings. He doesn’t expect a quick sale given the high asking price, which he sees as an opportunity to display the painting for a larger audience.

Bob Ross was the beloved host of “The Joy of Painting” series on PBS.

Bob Ross was the beloved host of “The Joy of Painting” series on PBS.

On that first show where he painted “A Walk in the Woods,” Ross — sporting his beloved perm, full beard and unbuttoned shirt — stressed that painting didn’t need to be pretentious.

“We have avoided painting for so long because I think all of our lives we’ve been told that you have to go to school half your life, maybe even have to be blessed by Michelangelo at birth, to ever be able to paint a picture,” Ross said. “And here, we want to show you that that’s not true. That you can paint a picture.”

Ross, who died in 1995, hosted the show from 1983 until 1994. In each episode, he would speak directly to viewers whom he encouraged to paint with him as he created idealized scenes of streams backed by mountains, waterfalls and rustic cabins and mills — all done very quickly.

In Chicago, “The Best of the Joy of Painting” airs on WTTW’s Prime, Create and World channels, and more than 300 episodes stream on wttw.com and the PBS app. The show saw a resurgence and attracted a new generation of fans during the pandemic due in great measure to Ross’ soothing voice and showing viewers they too, could finish a painting in 30 minutes.

None of Ross’ paintings, including “A Walk in the Woods,” would be confused for masterpieces. But that wasn’t the point.

“What this piece represents is the people’s artist,” Nelson said. “This isn’t an institution that’s telling you that Bob Ross is great. It’s not some high-brow gallery telling you that Bob Ross is great. This is the masses, the population in the world that are saying that Bob Ross is great.”

The first season of “The Joy of Painting” was filmed in Falls Creek, Virginia, and the painting from Ross’ first show was sold months later to raise funds for the local PBS station. A volunteer at the station bought the painting for an undisclosed price and hung it in her home for 39 years until getting in touch with Nelson, who has bought and sold more than 100 of Ross’ works.

Nelson bought the painting last year and then gave it a “not for sale” price of $9.85 million, said publicist Megan Hoffman.

Hoffman said the asking price is far more than any other Ross painting has sold for, but “A Walk in the Woods” is unique and Nelson isn’t looking for a quick sale. She notes that Ross’ popularity has soared in recent years, with 5.63 million subscribers to a YouTube channel featuring his shows.

“Ryan would prefer to take it out, tour it around to museums and things like that so people can enjoy it and appreciate it,” Hoffman said. “He will take offers but he’s not in a hurry to sell it.”