Originally published on July 18, 2019, in Washingtonian.
Last Friday, the internet collectively rejoiced at the news that the Smithsonian Museum of American History acquired four Bob Ross paintings and a selection of his personal items back in March. The excitement was brief, at least for people who were hoping to see the kitschy TV painter’s work in person: The museum reported that it has no current plans to exhibit the memorabilia.
But Ross fans, don’t despair yet—the largest collection of Ross’ paintings to ever be displayed at one time will be shown in the Franklin Park Arts Center in Purcellville, Virginia, from Sept. 10 to Oct. 15. Just an hour outside of DC, the Loudoun County public arts center will present 24 original Ross works created during his time on “The Joy of Painting.”
Not only will the paintings be available for the public to view, but three workshops with Bob Ross-certified instructor and Arlington resident Sandra Hill (there are over 3,000 such instructors in the United States and Canada, apparently) will teach attendees how to bring their own happy little trees to life. The $75 classes on Sept. 20, 21, and 22 will open registration on Aug. 15.
“It’s a whole new generation of people that are discovering him and his style of painting,” Franklin Park Arts Center managing director Elizabeth Bracey says. “We’re just thrilled.”
Although a small selection of the permed painter’s work is on show in his permanent gallery in Florida and at least two exhibitions have included a few Ross pieces, no gallery on the East Coast has ever fully dedicated to Ross’ unique works.
“Bob’s paintings haven’t been on display that often,” Sarah Strohl, executive assistant at Bob Ross Inc. says. “This will be definitely the largest opportunity to come see them.”
Ross regained popularity within the past few years, in part due to the memeification of his persona in the online era. After every single episode of “The Joy of Painting” streamed on gamer platform Twitch in 2015 (episodes continue to stream weekly), Ross developed a cult following among crowds with a heavy online presence.
His following among young people is part of why the Franklin Park Arts Center is hosting the exhibition. Bracey’s college-aged daughter is a Ross fan, and Bracey, who is friends with Joan Kowalski, president of Bob Ross Inc., arranged a tour of the company’s offices as a Christmas gift. Bracey enjoyed viewing the paintings herself and after talking with Kowalski, the two began planning the eventual gallery showing, and Kowalski selected the works.
“When we started talking about it, we realized that they’d never really had a public exhibit of his work,” Bracey says.
Bracey believes Ross’s calming presence has renewed relevance in today’s fast-paced, often-exhausting political and social environment. While his iconically calm voice makes the rounds of YouTube videos meant to relax the audience, Ross’ relaxed approach eases viewers into a peaceful world of beautiful landscapes and repetitive, serene brushstrokes. This temporary respite from the 24/7 news cycle brings a much-needed relief in today’s reality, Bracey says.
“There’s this calmness about his programs,” Bracy says. “We don’t have a lot of those moments in our society. There’s meditation classes, and yoga and things like that—people are looking for ways to have that quietness.”
Happy Accidents: An Exhibit of Bob Ross Paintings. Sept. 10 to Oct. 15 with an opening reception on Sept. 15. Free to the public. franklinparkartscenter.org.