When "The Joy of Painting" first aired in 1983, Bob Ross painted a scene of a serene, autumnal landscape called "A Walk in the Woods." Now, that original Season 1, Episode 1 painting is being sold by Minnesota art collector and dealer Ryan Nelson.
A volunteer at the PBS station where the episode was filmed sold it to him. She bought it at an auction the station held.
Some might like to frame it as a "happy little accident" (a classic Bob Ross-ism) that he came into possession of the piece.
Nelson, owner of the art dealing company Modern Artifact, disagrees. He knew what he had and roughly how much it would sell for.
"It's what you could call the rookie card of his career," Nelson said. "He's currently more searched for on Google than most major artists in the world, including Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso."
The piece is listed for $9.85 million. Nelson isn't sure that it will sell for that amount but also is hesitant about accepting offers. He's had people reach out from as far away as Australia to inquire about the piece. He stands firm on it being worth that price, though.
"I feel like we owe it to everyone who reached out to probably start to put it in public spaces," Nelson said. "To lose it right now, and not have that opportunity, when we can always sell it in the future, would probably eat me alive."
The painting has been verified as authentic by the Georgia-based Bob Ross Inc. The company does not buy and sell any of Ross's paintings, but does help with verification.
"We were able to determine that definitely, this was the exact painting that he had worked on in front of the camera for the first time. Very exciting," said Joan Kowalski, president of Bob Ross Inc.
Kowalski said she stays out of the art dealing world and doesn't have a sense of how much the painting is worth.
Ross' paintings have been in higher demand since his death at age of 52 in 1995, Nelson explained. Ross has become even more famous, with reruns of "The Joy of Painting" being a staple for '90s kids who grew up on PBS.
"What's changed in the market is that more and more people are becoming aware they can own a Bob Ross painting and the generation that grew up watching him is now deep in their careers," Nelson said. "Those people are demanding the very few that are out there and that's driving the price up."
Nelson collects other pieces of Bob Ross art, as well as other contemporary artists. He said his work might seem a bit out of place in Minnesota, far from the East or West coasts where you might picture a traditional art dealer. But Nelson said he's here to stay.
"I'm not the traditional highbrow art gallery owner, right? And I've dealt with that through our growth the entire way. And you know, we still became successful."