Bob Ross’ classic show “The Joy of Painting” introduced generations of viewers worldwide to his “happy little trees” and fluffy clouds. While FiveThirtyEight notes reports that Ross painted over 381 different landscapes over the 11-year run of the show — all showcasing his wet-on-wet technique — amazingly, none of the paintings ever contained houses with chimneys (via Mental Floss).
The reason behind his aversion to chimneys actually had more to do with his lack of interest in painting people. “I will tell you Bob’s biggest secret. If you notice, his cabins never had chimneys on them,” Annette Kowalski, Ross’ former student and co-founder of Bob Ross Inc., told FiveThirtyEight. “That’s because chimneys represented people, and he didn’t want any sign of a person in his paintings. Check the cabins. They have no chimneys.”
In fact, according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of all the subjects of Ross’ paintings, 18% of his paintings contained a cabin, but out of the 381 paintings they reviewed — Ross painted one for each episode — only one painting included a chimney.
There were many reasons he didn't paint people
There are actually only a handful of paintings by Ross that contain human beings. As The New York Times notes. “A Morning Walk” features two people from behind walking on a path in the woods. Another, “Campfire,” depicts a cowboy in silhouette resting against a tree.
One of the reasons he avoided painting people was because they were more difficult to paint, which he claimed was not his skillset. According to a user on The Data Lounge on a thread on Ross, “He said once on his show that he did not have a talent for portraiture. His talent was all in landscapes.”
Artist Lori McNamara on Quora, however, had a different theory. “I imagine it was for speed, if you have ever given a painting demo, you know you would be trying to paint fast, keep the viewers amused and teach them how to hold their tools, how to use them and how to mix paint colors. Adding people or animals adds more time and more chances to mess up … Bob was trying to teach beginners, [so] adding animals and people would be too hard for them.” Quora poster Hillary Marek concurred, paraphrasing Ross’ son, who stated that Ross “didn’t feel comfortable painting faces because capturing the emotional aspects of a person or animal is so subjective that it’s difficult to relate to an audience how to capture and recreate it within the time constraints of the TV program.”
Ross produced thousands of many paintings, but they're almost impossible to purchase
Bob Ross’ paintings are very rarely sold on the open market. While working on “The Joy of Painting,” Ross painted three versions of each painting: one for a guide during filming, one he filmed while shooting the episode, and a third one done later for close-up brush shots for his instructional books, per MentalFloss. That means he painted over 1,000 pieces, though The New York Times notes that Bob Ross Inc. believes there to be at least 1,165 paintings stored in their collection. They are determined to keep that collection intact and have no plans to sell any. While Ross also painted other paintings outside the show, he also notably donated many to charities for fundraisers. Some of his works are displayed at the Bob Ross Art Workshop and Gallery in Florida, and some are in the Smithsonian, but rarely do they surface for sale.
Ironically, on a 1994 episode of “Donahue,” when prompted by host Phil Donahue whether his work would ever hang in a museum, Ross replied, “Well, maybe it will, but probably not the Smithsonian” (via The Atlantic). Little did he know that almost 25 years later, his work would indeed be hanging in that very museum.
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