I Spent Two Months Trying to Buy a Bob Ross Painting Because Nothing Makes Sense Anymore

Bob Ross
By Bob Ross Incorporated

I am in therapy.

Because of climate change.

Over the past several months, it has gotten to the point where I feel this gnawing, heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I see an article about our ice caps melting or bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. I can’t stop reading about our irrevocable march towards a warmer world, which has only been exacerbated by the election of a corn dildo who thinks that climate change is something created by the Chinese, like gunpowder and nail polish.

I meet weekly with a therapist to discuss this fear—on our first meeting, we went through a lengthy checklist to assess my happiness and whether I had experienced any serious abuses during my life. “No,” I said as I tried to avoid looking him directly in the eye. “I’m just really worried about the polar bears.”

I am. I am really worried about polar bears, the other, less-interesting types of bears, and the overall destruction of the planet. I thought I was making progress on this lingering sense of dread, but then the election happened and Despot Garfield has been appointed to the highest office in the land, voted into office by constituents who probably think that Axe Body Spray commercials are inspirational. I keep waking everyday like I’ve just forgotten the events of the past few months. Each morning is spent with one pure moment of bliss and ignorance before the knowledge of what happened to our country sets in. Oh, that’s still happening, I think in mild confusion before every horrific political appointment comes rushing back. The basket of deplorables has turned into a cabinet. And no matter how many politically-outraged Facebook posts I click the ‘angry emoji’ for, nothing seems to change! Our current political climate has brought to life something that we as a society have been trained to ignore—like war crimes, or watching drunk men eat. Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus before inauguration day, I keep thinking…optimistically.

I needed something to counteract this. I decided that I needed to possess something pure. And innocent. Something that I could hold and it would absolve not just my sins, but all the sins in the world. A comfort blanket for the soul, if you will. But as I’m about 70 percent sure that unicorns don’t exist, and I don’t know where to find Mr. Rogers’ sweater collection, I decided I needed something more attainable. My therapist has asked what I do to cope with these crippling fears, and in addition to binge-eating and crying over inauguration day, there is Bob Ross.

Happy Trees and the Occasional Log Cabin

In times of trouble, we must always turn to Bob Ross.

Thanks to our Netflix gods, his show is now online, and I find myself watching it to an obsessive degree—while I’m working, while I’m relaxing, while I’m trying to fall asleep. It is comforting listening to his soft voice discuss paint colors as I drift into unconsciousness. This is a man incapable of swearing, who brings in squirrels to paint with him, who has the calming vocal quality of an elfland prince. But it is not just his voice and mannerisms that relax me—it is his work. His paintings are a gateway to a better world—a world filled with beautiful woodland scenes and flowing, unpolluted rivers. Trees! There are so many happy trees. It is a world where our country has not been taken over by an anthropomorphized turd shat out by someone force-fed a steady diet of Cheetos. His paintings have no people in them, orange or otherwise. They are just beautiful mountain settings with the occasional log cabin.

In the past two weeks, I’ve made it through the 26 episodes available on Netflix. It was on Episode 24, “Autumn Fantasy,” when I came to a realization. I had been staring blankly at the screen, watching him create worlds on canvas, but suddenly everything made sense. Bob Ross—noted conservationist and general chill dude—was painting the end of the world. He was a man who created beautiful apocalypses; the aftermath of an apocalypse, where by some miracle the beauty of this earth was preserved but all the people were gone. There were always signs
of human life—he was a big fan of drawing in forest paths or strategically-placed log cabins, but there were never any actual people. He created forests, rivers, plains, mountains, oceans, and other wildlife scenes without a single person in the frame. At first, I assumed it was because etching in people would be difficult to do with his wet-on-wet oil technique, but now I think it was intentional. He designed perfect worlds, and perfect worlds are only perfect when there aren’t any people in them. People ruin things—the environment, birthday parties, national elections…the list goes on. I kept watching the show with a strange fixation—I wanted to live in these paintings.

I had to have one.

Bob Ross: 30,000; Me: 0

Bob Ross liked to reinforce that art is a gradual skill—that if you practice enough than you too can learn to paint these gorgeous dystopias. I would listen to him, my head nodding along in agreement as he detailed the techniques used on each painting as if I was following by example, instead of eating Milanos out of a bag as I lay comatose in bed. I would not make one—I would buy one, because I needed tranquility and I needed it now. Surprisingly, Googling what he did with his art yields few results. His website only exists to hawk books and painting supplies, and his Wikipedia page failed to confirm that he was creating peaceful dystopian dream-scopes. My search for inner piece and tranquility led me to a 2012 Mental Floss article that provided a total on all of Bob Ross’s work (over 30,000 paintings) and mentioned that a number of them had been donated to PBS stations across the country.

Excellent, I thought. I would call a PBS station, give them my PayPal information, and soon I would have a personal Bob Ross painting to love and cherish for my own. Sadly, there was a problem with this plan that I realized after the first dozen calls yielded no information whatsoever: Bob Ross was a mythical art unicorn with work that was very hard to find. And I could either keep calling, or do something productive with my time—like sudoku.

I decided to keep calling.

Wily Bastard

Nashville Public Television had no paintings, Kentucky Educational Television had no paintings, and neither did WCTE Upper Cumberland PBS. WTTW Chicago Public Media had no clue who Bob Ross was: “Who?” said the operator when I told her about my search. I gave a brief overview of the man, the legend. “I have no idea,” she told me. “I really have no idea.”

Oh Bob Ross, I thought as I dialed my way through PBS stations across the Midwest. You wily bastard. Throughout the course of a two-week period, I phoned my way across the flyover states, the American Southwest, the impressive East Coast, the less-impressive West Coast, and $*%ing Alaska and not one single station had a Bob Ross painting. My loved ones suggested I take up a new hobby, or at least find a better one than harassing PBS operators. They don’t understand the importance of Bob Ross—he is my safety net, or at least the illusion of one. For the past eight years, my hobby has involved obsessively reading the news, yet no matter how bad national or international events, I found the image of Barack Obama’s perfectly-shaped head to be the ultimate source of comfort. The world might be melting, but he would keep us safe! Following the results of this election, I have been desperate for another safety net, and watching Bob Ross feels like the equivalent of coming down from a three-day mushroom high as someone sprinkles Xanax over my gaping eye socket with Enya playing softly in the distance. It’s so…calming. I can’t carry this feeling with me in the real world, but if I owned something he made, I could harness that sense of peace in my daily life.

I furthered my search by calling the Bob Ross Art Workshop in Smyrna, Florida. They were equally unprepared to part with their Bob Ross paintings. “But you have them,” I said, wondering if I could travel to Florida and move into their gallery. “Yes,” he said, “but if you want to buy one you’ll have to look on eBay—that’s where most of them end up.”

The Issue with eBay

To eBay I went.

The issue with eBay, I learned, was capitalism. Capitalism has allowed a markup of Bob Ross paintings to exceed thousands of dollars. I had $80 and was planning to write a nice thank-you note. Most of the vendors I contacted with certified Bob Ross artwork never responded to my queries, the bastards, and a large number of sellers sold Bob Ross ‘style’ paintings, which, as I learned, was not actually drawn by Bob Ross. I asked one vendor if he would forge Bob Ross’s signature on one of his pieces so I could pretend it was an original. This was his response:

“The painting was made using the same style of painting that Bob Ross used. The painting is already signed…Signatures are individual and to put a second signature on the painting would not look like Bob Ross’s signature. I would love to sell the painting, but would not feel comfortable signing the painting as though it was made by Bob Ross. Thanks for your interest.”

Take a Look in Your Basement

Finally, thank Xenu, I got a response from a vendor. Modern Artifact (a store that sells authenticated and well-known antiques, paintings, and memorabilia) educated me on the logistics of finding a Bob Ross original.

“Yeah, they’re hard to find,” the Modern Artifact operator said. That seemed like a massive understatement. He continued, “This year I came across the most we’ve had ever had…maybe seven paintings.”

Seven. Of the thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of pieces that that beautiful, conservationist hippie ever painted—an established store that had more than an $80 budget to spend on a painting could only find seven originals. My chest grew tight when he told me this and the Modern Artifact seller continued, “I can only think that people who would have bought them in the 80s didn’t realize what they were getting—they’re most likely forgotten in people’s basements.”

It’s January now, and I’ve stopped trying. Inauguration day is coming up, the polar bears are headed towards extinction, and I’m trying to console myself with a print-out of Bob Ross himself that hangs above my bed. As I write this, I find myself staring at the mystery that is his hair, wondering if this small consolation prize will allow me at last to quit this ridiculous vendetta. And the answer is….no. No, of course not—that’s like accepting election results for an inferior, grossly-unqualified candidate. That’s like accepting that the polar bears aren’t going to make it. I want a g-damned Bob Ross original. So if you’re reading this, please take a look in your basement for a stashed-away and forgotten Bob Ross painting and send it to me.

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Molly Harris is a riddle, inside an enigma, wrapped in feminine wiles, nestled in a soft, human skin suit with a blonde wig on top. She arrived to Chicago from the wild cornfields of Indiana and spends most of her time talking about science fiction and glitter and puns.

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