Happy Little Money Trees: A $60 Painting Bought in 1980 Turns Out to Be a Bob Ross Original
By Jake Rossen
Art of significant value selling for a relative pittance at garage sales or other small markets is nothing new. What is new is the recipient of the bargain getting a valuable artifact direct from the hands of the artist. That’s what happened to Larry Walton, a onetime bush pilot in Alaska who procured a painting at an Anchorage art fair for $60 in 1980. The seller? Artist Bob Ross, who was soon to debut as the host of PBS’s The Joy of Painting in 1983.
Some 40 years later, Walton received an unexpected $10,000 windfall as a result of this chance encounter.
Walton bought the artwork, which features a mountain and creek underneath the northern lights, because the scene reminded him of his days as a pilot. According to the Post-Bulletin of Minnesota, Walton kept the painting in ideal conditions over the decades, first inside his home in Crosslake and then in a garage, where it remained protected from sunlight.
The provenance of the painting wasn’t discovered until recently, when Walton’s son-in-law, Chris Kovacs, was sorting through their possessions for an estate sale. Kovacs thought he recognized it because he had recently gotten a recommendation from YouTube to watch a video about Ross and a northern lights artwork. He didn’t watch the video, but he remembered the notice and partnered with Walton’s other sons-in-law to investigate further. They found a willing buyer in Ryan Nelson, owner of Modern Artifact art gallery in Minneapolis, which does a brisk business in Ross originals.
Many of Ross’s paintings are in the possession of Bob Ross, Inc., the Virginia company responsible for licensing out the Ross brand. The company authenticated the Walton painting, which is currently for sale by Nelson for $18,450 on eBay.