Fans of Bob Ross flock to rare exhibit of his paintings

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PURCELLVILLE, Va. — The first full gallery exhibit of paintings by Bob Ross, the widely loved painter and public TV personality, is drawing thousands of excited fans to this small Virginia town to see two dozen of his original works. 

The featured works, on display until Oct. 15, come from the penultimate year of The Joy of Painting, the paint-along show Ross hosted on PBS for over 11 years. Ross retired from the show in 1994 due to declining health and died the next year at the age of 52.

Ross’ paintings are arrayed on the walls of the dimly lit Franklin Park Arts Center. Each is accompanied by a placard featuring Ross’ smiling face, the name of the painting, and a Ross quote from the episode it was painted in. 

Seeing the paintings up close instead of on a television provides evidence of Ross’ remarkable skill and attention to detail. As viewers of the show would expect, the paintings depict nature scenes, including mountain ranges, ocean waves crashing on rocky shores, and lonely trees in grassy fields.

“It was really cool to see all of Bob Ross’ paintings up close and in person,” said Hailey Nydish, who came to the exhibit with her dad. “You could really see all of his details and how much thought was put into each of his paintings.” 

“There is such an amazing amount of detail. … You realize it really is an amazing accomplishment, what he was able to do on the canvas,” said Joan Kowalski, president of Bob Ross Inc. 

Created by her parents, who helped discover Bob Ross and launch him to TV fame, Kowalski’s company now oversees the marketing and handling of Ross’ legacy. She said it’s “quite poetic” that Ross’ first major exhibit would be in Purcellville, as the painter often explored the surrounding northern Virginia area while trying to avoid business meetings at the Bob Ross Inc. headquarters in Herndon. 

The exhibit came about after Bob Ross Inc.’s recent donation of paintings to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Because the Smithsonian had no plans to exhibit Ross’ work in the immediate future, Kowalski contacted the Franklin Park Arts Center to arrange the exhibit. 

“When we told people ‘There is this little place out almost to West Virginia … where you can go see Bob’s paintings,’ they were so excited,” said Kowalski. “It made us realize that people do want to see Bob’s paintings.”

“It’s been quite amazing for us to see the excitement people have about Bob Ross,” said Elizabeth Bracey, manager of the arts center. 

Patrons lined up out the door and through the parking lot on opening day. Ross fans have reserved all 15,000 of the exhibit’s available tickets, which are free. As of Sept. 30, the arts center had reaped over $35,000 selling Ross-related merchandise. Bracey expects the center will reach half of its annual fundraising goal during the exhibit. 

Ross told the New York Times in 1991 that he had “no desire for a major exhibit” of his work. But Kowalski said that after seeing the excitement in Purcellville, she thinks Ross would have been “very happy” to see his works exhibited at the gallery. Bob Ross Inc. is now planning a world tour of Ross’ paintings, she said.
Digital Editor Mike Janssen contributed reporting to this article.

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