Pablo Picasso was born on October 25, 1881 in Málaga, Spain. Celebrate what would have been the art legend's 137th birthday with these surprising facts.
1. HIS REAL NAME WAS PABLO RUIZ.
Well, actually Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. The Spanish artist adopted his mother's Italian surname, because he thought it suited him better. Here's how he explained it to Hungarian artist George Brassaï: "[Picasso] was stranger, more resonant, than Ruiz ... Do you know what appealed to me about that name? Well, it was undoubtedly the double s, which is fairly unusual in Spain. Picasso is of Italian origin, as you know. And the name a person bears or adopts has its importance. Can you imagine me calling myself Ruiz? Pablo Ruiz? Diego-José Ruiz? Or Juan-Népomucène Ruiz?"
2. HE COMPLETED HIS FIRST PAINTING AT AGE NINE.
Picasso's parents didn't have a refrigerator, but if they did, they'd have displayed his early works with pride. Painting ran in the family. Picasso started figure drawing and oil painting lessons with his painter father when he was seven years old. By the age of nine, he'd finished his first painting. Picasso entered Barcelona's School of Fine Arts, where his father taught, at age 13. Two years later, he completed what he called his first major painting.
3. THERE ARE VICIOUS RUMORS THAT PICASSO WAS ... LEFT-HANDED.
Being called a southpaw isn't the worst thing in the world. Picasso would certainly be in good company, if it were true. But Picasso was a righty. See for yourself.
4. THERE WERE RUMORS THAT HE STOLE THE MONA LISA.
On August 21, 1911, someone stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre and turned the art world upside-down. When a French newspaper offered a reward for information, a man came forward with a statue he'd stolen from the museum four years earlier. He claimed to have stolen a few of them for the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who'd sold them to Picasso. The 29-year-old artist, now living in France, was taken to court, where he denied knowing that the statues he'd purchased were stolen. There was no real evidence or a link to the Mona Lisa theft, so Picasso wasn't charged.
The real thief, Vincenzo Peruggia, was caught in 1913 when he tried to sell the pilfered Mona Lisa to an art dealer. Peruggia had once been a guard at the Louvre and constructed the frame that encased the painting. He claimed to have stolen the Mona Lisa to bring her home to Italy, but some still believe that Picasso may have had something to do with it.
5. HIS ICONIC STRIPED SHIRT WAS NO ORDINARY STRIPED SHIRT.
It was a Breton-striped shirt. In 1858, the navy and white knit top became the official uniform for French seamen in Brittany, with 21 horizontal stripes to represent each of Napoleon's victories and a continuous stripe from shirt to sleeves to make it easier to see sailors in the distance. Coco Chanel brought working-class Breton stripes to the fashion world in 1917. They're still en vogue.
6. MARIE-THÉRÈSE WALTER WAS THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY.
Picasso said, “Love is the greatest refreshment in life.” And let’s just say the man never left the concession stand. In 1927, he saw a pretty blonde named Marie-Thérèse Walter on the street and tried to pick her up with the old, “Miss, you have an interesting face ... I would like to do your portrait … I am Picasso” routine.
Walter had never heard of him.
But the two got together, despite differences in age (she was 17; he was 45), social stations (the rest of the world had heard of him), and relationship status (Picasso had a wife, ballerina Olga Khokhlova, and a few random mistresses). It was Picasso’s most colorful love affair. Some of his most acclaimed—and expensive—artwork was inspired by Marie-Thérèse. They even had a daughter together.
Alas, Picasso’s greatest muse never became Mrs. Picasso. The artist refused to divorce Olga, and he and Marie-Thérèse called it quits around 1936. After Olga died, Picasso married Jacqueline Roque, who worked in a pottery studio. Some say Marie-Thérèse was still waiting for Picasso to put a ring on it when he died in 1973. She hanged herself four years later in the home they’d shared. (Jacqueline also committed suicide 13 years after Picasso's death.)
7. HE WASN'T JUST A PAINTER.
Picasso once said, "My mother said to me, 'If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.' Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.'" But that wasn't all. Picasso dabbled in poetry in 1935 after breaking up with his first wife and later wrote two surrealist plays—one of which was performed as a reading with Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Rumor has it, Picasso predicted that someday he'd be more famous for his poems than paintings. But his untitled, punctuation-less, mostly sexual and scatological verses never took off. One gem: "the smell of bread crusts marinating in urine." Hey, you can't be good at everything!
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
Amanda Crowe created remarkable works of art with just a mallet and chisel, transforming blocks of wood into bears, raccoons, deer, moose, and owls. The late Eastern Band Cherokee Indian woodcarver, who died in 2004, is being celebrated in today’s Google Doodle.
A video featuring images of some of Crowe’s works was released in recognition of Native American Heritage Month. The musical accompaniment was composed by her nephew, William “Bill” H. Crowe, Jr., and the video highlights some of Crowe’s best-known quotes.
“I carve because I love to do it,” Crowe once said. “The movement of the grains—they almost seem alive under your hands—and the beautiful tones and textures all add life to the figures you whittle.”
Crowe was born in the Qualla Boundary, North Carolina on July 16, 1928, and her uncle started teaching her how to carve wood when she was just four years old. She later commented that she was “barely old enough to handle a knife” when she first started learning, but she clearly had a knack for working with her hands.
After honing her craft throughout her childhood and teen years, she was offered a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago. There, she studied various media—including plaster, stone, and metal—but she always gravitated toward wood. Crowe went on to earn a master’s degree and spent some time in Mexico studying with Spanish sculptor José de Creeft.
When she finally returned home to the Qualla Boundary, she spent the next 40 years teaching art at Cherokee High School. According to Google, she is often credited with helping to restore interest in Cherokee carving—an ancestral tradition and a unique art form. Her carvings have carried her legacy around the world, having been displayed at museums in the U.S., England, Germany, and beyond.
Whether or not you’re artistically inclined, there’s a good chance that you—like millions of other people around the world—have been captivated by Bob Ross’s instructional landscape paintings and soothing voice. On what would have been Ross’s 76th birthday, we’re sharing 35 facts about the happy little legend.
1. HE KEPT AN ALLIGATOR IN THE BATHTUB AS A KID.
A lifelong animal lover, Ross was always rescuing wounded animals and nursing them back to health. As a kid growing up in Florida, this meant one rather strange addition to the family: an alligator, which he attempted to nurse back to health in the Ross family bathtub. Even in his adult life, Ross was always playing host to orphaned and injured animals, including an epileptic squirrel that lived in his empty Jacuzzi.
2. HE WAS AN AIR FORCE MASTER SERGEANT.
Ross’s quiet voice and gentle demeanor were two of his most iconic traits, which makes the fact that he spent 20 years in the United States Air Force and retired with the rank of master sergeant all the more surprising. Basically, he was the guy who told everyone else what to do.
3. HE USED TO BE QUITE THE YELLER.
Before he lent his dulcet voice to The Joy of Painting, Ross spent a lot of time yelling. "I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work,” Ross once said. “The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn't going to be that way anymore."
4. BEFORE HE PAINTED HAPPY LITTLE TREES, HE PAINTED PANS.
While stationed in Alaska during his stint in the Air Force, Ross indulged his creative side by painting his now-iconic landscapes onto golden pans, which he sold for $25 apiece. Today, they can fetch as much as $7500 on eBay.
5. HE WAS INSPIRED BY BILL ALEXANDER.
From 1974 to 1982, German painter Bill Alexander hosted an art instruction show on PBS, The Magic of Oil Painting, where he shared his “wet-on-wet” oil painting technique. Ross discovered the series while working as a bartender, and became an immediate fan of the artist. He ended up studying under Alexander, who became his mentor. In fact, Ross dedicated the first episode of his own PBS show, The Joy of Painting, to Alexander. “Years ago, Bill taught me this fantastic technique,” Ross told viewers. “And I feel as though he gave me a precious gift, and I'd like to share that gift with you.”
6. WHEN ALEXANDER RETIRED, HE APPOINTED ROSS AS HIS SUCCESSOR.
In the early 1980s, as Alexander was preparing to retire, he asked Ross to take over teaching his painting classes. Ross agreed, and set out to tour the country on his own in a motor home, traveling and teaching people Alexander’s “wet-on-wet” technique. He told his wife Jane that he’d try it out for one year, and if he didn’t make enough money, he would return to Alaska.
7. HIS SIGNATURE PERM WAS AN ECONOMICAL CHOICE.
It was during Ross’s time on the road that he adopted his iconic hairstyle. Since teaching painting wasn’t an extremely lucrative profession, Ross learned to stretch every penny. One way he did this was to save money on haircuts by getting his locks permed.
Though Ross reportedly hated the permed hair, he was a businessman first, which is why he kept it. “When we got a line of paints and brushes, we put his picture on,” Bob Ross Company co-founder Annette Kowalski told Mental Floss. “The logo is a picture of Bob with that hair, so he could never get it cut. He wasn’t always happy about that.”
(You can see what he looked like without his trademark perm here.)
9. HE WAS “DISCOVERED” BY ONE OF HIS STUDENTS.
Though it was Alexander who got Ross started on his career path as an artist, it was Kowalski—one of Ross’s students—who put him on the pop culture map. Kowalski, who is often credited as the woman who "discovered" Ross, took a five-day instructional course with Ross in 1982, and quickly became enamored with his calming voice and positive messages.
In addition to newfound painting skills, Kowalski left the class with a new client: she became Ross’s manager, helping him broker the deal for The Joy of Painting television show with PBS, and later, a line of Bob Ross art supplies.
10. HE WORKED FOR FREE.
The Joy of Painting ran new seasons on PBS from 1983 to 1994, so even at public broadcasting rates the show must have made Ross quite a bit of loot, right? Not quite. Ross actually did the series for free; his income came from Bob Ross Inc.
Ross's company sold art supplies and how-to videotapes, taught classes, and even had a troupe of traveling art instructors who roamed the world teaching painting. It's tough to think of a better advertisement for these products than Ross's show.
11. HE COULD FILM AN ENTIRE SEASON IN ABOUT TWO DAYS.
How did Ross find the time to tape all of those shows for free? He could record a season almost as fast as he could paint. Ross could bang out an entire 13-episode season of The Joy of Painting in just over two days, which freed him up to get back to teaching lessons, which is where he made his real money.
12. THE JOY OF PAINTING WAS A WORLDWIDE HIT.
In addition to being carried by approximately 95 percent of all public television stations across America, reaching viewers in more than 93.5 million homes, The Joy of Painting was a hit outside of the U.S. as well. The show was broadcast in dozens of foreign countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, South Korea, and Turkey.
13. HE WAS PARTICULARLY BIG IN JAPAN.
The Joy of Painting was a big hit in Japan, where it aired twice a day. (His voice, however, was dubbed.) On a visit to the country, Ross was reportedly mobbed by fans.
14. ROSS LIKENED HIS POPULARITY TO A DRUG ADDICTION.
"We're like drug dealers,” Ross once said of the popularity of his painting technique. “Come into town and get everybody absolutely addicted to painting. It doesn't take much to get you addicted.”
15. VIEWERS LOVED HIM. FELLOW ARTISTS? NOT AS MUCH.
Though he was undoubtedly a pop culture phenomenon, the art world didn’t exactly embrace Ross. “People definitely know who he is," Kevin Lavin, a “struggling” painter, told The New York Times in 1991. "In his own way, he is as famous as Warhol.”
"It is formulaic and thoughtless,” sculptor Keith Frank said of Ross’s work in the same article. “Art as therapy."
“I am horrified by art instruction on television," added Abstract Expressionist Richard Pousette-Dart, who passed away the following year. "It's terrible—bad, bad, bad. They are just commercial exploiters, non-artists teaching other non-artists."
16. SOME ART SUPPLY STORES KEPT ROSS’S PRODUCTS AT A DISTANCE.
The New York Timespaid a visit to Pearl Paint Company, an art supply store in New York City, where an employee pointed to the “happy little corner" where they kept Ross’s products. "We hide them," he admitted, "so as not to offend."
17. ALEXANDER WASN’T THRILLED WITH ROSS’S SUCCESS.
Bill Alexander was one of the artists who wasn’t thrilled with Ross’s success, even though he had been his protégé. “He betrayed me," Alexander toldThe New York Times. "I invented 'wet on wet.' I trained him and he is copying me—what bothers me is not just that he betrayed me, but that he thinks he can do it better."
18. HIS HAPPY LITTLE COMMENTS WEREN’T AD LIBBED.
Though part of Ross’s appeal was his conversational tone, none of this talk of happy accidents or other happy little things was ad libbed. “He told me he would lay in bed at night and plan every word,” Kowalski once said. “He knew exactly what he was doing.”
19. HE WAS MISSING PART OF HIS LEFT INDEX FINGER.
Though you’d never know it from his painting technique, not all of Ross’s digits were intact. He lost part of his left index finger when he was a kid in a woodworking accident while working with his dad, who was a carpenter.
20. HE RARELY PAINTED PEOPLE.
While trees and wildlife often helped bring Ross’s paintings to life, he rarely painted people. In fact, he liked to keep his work as people-free as possible.
“I will tell you Bob’s biggest secret,” Kowalski told FiveThirtyEight. “If you notice, his cabins never had chimneys on them. That’s because chimneys represented people, and he didn’t want any sign of a person in his paintings.”
21. HE KEPT A TINY SQUIRREL IN HIS POCKET.
The Joy of Painting regularly featured a rotating cast of happy little animals, with a tiny squirrel named Peapod probably getting the bulk of airtime. According to Ross, Peapod liked to sit in his pocket.
22. NOT MANY PEOPLE ACTUALLY PAINTED ALONG WITH HIM.
Though The Joy of Painting was a beloved series, people didn’t seem to be watching it to learn how to be the next Picasso. It was once estimated that only 10 percent of viewers were actually painting along with Ross.
23. HE REALLY DID LOVE TREES.
In 2014, FiveThirtyEight did a statistical breakdown of Ross’s work on The Joy of Painting and found that 91 percent of them included at least one tree—by far the most popular element. (And if he painted one tree, there was a 93 percent chance he’d paint a second one—though he referred to any additional trees as “friends” on the show.)
24. HIS SON, STEVE, PREFERRED LAKES.
On a few occasions, Ross’s son Steve subbed for his dad as a guest host. That same data set discovered that Steve liked happy little lakes: 91 percent of Steve’s paintings featured one (as opposed to Bob’s 34 percent).
25. HE MADE THREE COPIES OF EACH PAINTING YOU SEE IN THE JOY OF PAINTING.
Ross shot 403 episodes of The Joy of Painting and made three near-exact copies of each painting per episode. The first copy always hid off screen, and Ross referred to it while the cameras rolled (none of his on-air paintings were spontaneous). Ross painted a third copy when filming finished. This time, an assistant would stand behind him and snap photos of each brushstroke; these pictures went into his how-to books.
26. HE DIDN’T GET A WHOLE LOT OF INTERVIEW REQUESTS.
For all his worldwide popularity, there aren’t a lot of interviews with Ross. It has nothing to do with the artist being publicity-shy—it’s just that people rarely asked. “I never turn down requests for interviews,” he once said. “I’m just rarely asked.”
27. HE WAS AN MTV PITCHMAN.
For all his hokey-ness, Ross was cool enough to be asked to be a pitchman for MTV—which he deemed “The land of happy little trees.”
28. NINTENDO HAD PLANNED A SERIES OF BOB ROSS VIDEO GAMES.
Though some thought it was an April Fools’ joke, Nintendo had plans to create a series of video games based on The Joy of Painting. Unfortunately, the project ran into production problems pretty early on, so we’ll never know what might have been.
29. THE JOY OF PAINTING IS GREAT FOR INSOMNIA.
In 2001, Bob Ross Inc. media director Joan Kowalski told The New York Times how people almost seemed embarrassed to admit that Ross’s voice was the perfect solution to insomnia. “It's funny to talk to these people,'' she said. ''Because they think they're the only ones who watch to take a nap. Bob knew about this. People would come up to him and say, 'I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you've been putting me to sleep for 10 years.' He'd love it.''
Even today, Ross has become an ASMR star: On the ASMR thread on Reddit, “Bob Ross” is listed as a common trigger. A video of Ross painting a mountain has a staggering 7.65 million views, with others regularly surpassing 2 or 3 million views. Of course, not all of those are ASMR viewers, but a mounting online presence suggests they certainly deserve some of the credit.
30. HE DIDN'T SELL HIS PAINTINGS.
In a 1991 interview with The New York Times, Ross claimed he'd made over 30,000 paintings since he was an 18-year-old stationed in Alaska with the Air Force. Yet he was not one to hawk his own work. So what happened to them? When Ross died of lymphoma in 1995, most of his paintings either ended up in the hands of charity or PBS.
“One of the questions that I hear over and over and over is, ‘What do we do with all these paintings we do on television?’ Most of these paintings are donated to PBS stations across the country,” he said. “They auction them off, and they make a happy buck with ‘em. So if you’d like to have one, get in touch with your PBS station, cause … we give them to stations all over the country to help them out with their fundraisers.”
31. ROSS’S VAN WAS ONCE BURGLED OF 13 PAINTINGS.
The fact that Ross didn’t try and turn a profit from his own work doesn’t mean that you can’t find one for sale. At one point, more than a dozen of his paintings hit the black market when someone stole 13 reference paintings from Ross’s van during the show's second season.
32. HE HOPED TO DEVELOP A CHILDREN’S SHOW ABOUT WILDLIFE.
In the early 1990s, Ross was looking to branch out from art and had an idea for a kids’ show called Bob’s World, where he planned to go out into nature and teach kids about wildlife.
33. IF YOU HAPPEN TO FIND YOURSELF IN FLORIDA, YOU CAN CHECK OUT SOME OF HIS ORIGINAL WORKS.
The Bob Ross Art Workshop in New Smyrna Beach, Florida is a must-visit destination for Ross die-hards: In addition to offering art classes in Ross’s method, you’ll find a collection of the artist’s original paintings.
34. YOU CAN VIEW MORE THAN 400 OF HIS WORKS IN ONE PLACE.
Two Inch Brush—named after Ross's brush of choice for the wet-on-wet technique—is an unofficial database that organizes all 403 paintings from The Joy of Painting by season and episode.
35. HE IS A FUNKO TOY.
In August 2017, Funko released a vinyl figurine of the iconic artist/television personality. It depicts Ross dressed in his trademark jeans and button-down shirt, holding a painter’s palette. Sadly, it doesn’t come with any miniature paintings of "happy little trees."