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Meet the Woman Who Discovered Bob Ross

Annette Kowalski is probably 70-something years old, but I don’t know for sure because she wouldn’t disclose the exact number.

“Don’t get old, Caitlin,” she told me. “It isn’t good for you.”

Kowalski’s official answer on how old she is is “very,” but she added that former business partner Bob Ross was around the same age and that I could deduce hers from that information. Ross died on July 4th, 1995 after a years-long battle with lymphoma. He would have been 73 in October.

Kowalski, the owner and co-founder of the Bob Ross Company, met its namesake in 1982 after losing her 24-year-old son in a traffic accident. Kowalski was devastated by the event and her grief gave way to a deep depression. She coped as best as could by lying on the couch and watching her favorite television painter and personality, Bill Alexander.

If you’re not familiar with Alexander, he’s best (or most succinctly) described as the original Bob Ross—except he’s German, and bald. Alexander hosted The Magic of Oil Painting and The Art of Bill Alexander on PBS. Though he's largely unknown today, videos from his shows still live on YouTube and his profound influence on Ross is apparent before you even press play.

At a loss as to how to help his wife, Kowalski’s husband Walt got on the phone and called Alexander’s company in Oregon to inquire about making a cross-country trip from their home in Washington D.C. so Annette could take a class. He was told that Bill Alexander was no longer teaching, but a young, unknown artist named Bob Ross was slated to take over. Ross had an upcoming class in Clearwater, Florida—so while he wasn’t the man she’d been hoping for, Kowalski and her husband got in the car and drove the 14 hours to Clearwater.

Kowalski signed up for a five-day seminar, but it only took one for her to know that Ross was something special.

“I could not believe what I saw,” she said. “People were mesmerized by Bob. I was so enthralled with him that I wasn’t even doing my painting. I was following him around the room and watching him interact with people.”

Ross was a former military man who had served in the Air Force and was stationed for a time in Alaska, where he became well-acquainted with the kinds of landscapes he’d go on to paint on television. Ross eventually studied under Alexander after seeing him on TV and decided to try to carve a path as an artist and painting instructor before being tapped to continue the Alexander legacy. On the last day of that five-day class in Clearwater, Kowalski invited Ross to dine with her and Walt at a nearby hamburger joint.

“I said to Bob, ‘It’s a shame I had to drive 1500 miles to take this class. Would you come to Washington D.C.?’” Kowalski recalled. 

Ross agreed, quoting Kowalski an “enormous” amount of money. She promptly booked a classroom at a local Holiday Inn and took out an advertisement in the newspaper. Only a couple of people showed up. They moved on to Baltimore and then other cities. Still no one came. Soon, the financial strain started to wear on Kowalski and her husband, who got fed up enough to propose the idea that would change everything. Walt suggested they recruit Bill Alexander to film a commercial in which he literally handed a paintbrush over to Bob, telling the world that Ross was now the bearer of the torch. 

“Am I making any sense at all?”

Kowalski asked me this several times during our conversation, and she always was. Her only slip-up occurred when trying to recollect what happened next. She first told me they took the commercial right to PBS, but of course, PBS doesn’t air commercials. In fact they wanted the spot to run during The Phil Donahue Show, but it needed some work to get camera ready, so they took it to the local PBS station for help cutting the tape. When the manager at WNVC in Virginia saw it, he promptly recruited the young painter for a new television series. Ross dedicated the first episode of The Joy of Painting in 1983 to Alexander, and from there, he was up and running.

See Also: 20 Bob Ross Quotes to Make Life Better

More than 30 years later, Bob Ross has become a global phenomenon. Certified Ross Instructors (or CRIs) are stationed all over the world and The Bob Ross Art Workshop in New Smyrna Beach, Florida has around 100 of his paintings on display. His other works (there are more than 500) have been stored away, one of which—never before seen by the public—will be revealed and taught at the CRI reunion this October. I asked Kowalski if she could reveal any tantalizing details about the piece. 

“Oh, it’s just another landscape,” she said.

For those interested, it takes three weeks to become a Certified Ross Instructor, which means you still have plenty of time before the reunion to become a member of the family.

See Also: What Happened to Bob Ross's Paintings?

The Bob Ross Company is headquartered in Chantilly, Virginia where Kowalski still works to keep Bob Ross’ happy clouds and trees out in the world, through television and in classrooms. She said she’s been surprised at how his fame has exploded in the Internet age, but added that it wasn’t just coincidence, crediting a lot of hardworking people behind the scenes. What hasn’t surprised her is that people continue to enjoy tuning in.

 “Most people don’t paint, they just watch,” she said. “They like to hear his voice. They just like Bob.”

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The Getty Center, Surrounded By Wildfires, Will Leave Its Art Where It Is
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The wildfires sweeping through California have left countless homeowners and businesses scrambling as the blazes continue to grow out of control in various locations throughout the state. While art lovers worried when they heard that Los Angeles's Getty Center would be closing its doors this week, as the fires closed part of the 405 Freeway, there was a bit of good news. According to museum officials, the priceless works housed inside the famed Getty Center are said to be perfectly secure and won't need to be evacuated from the facility.

“The safest place for the art is right here at the Getty,” Ron Hartwig, the Getty’s vice president of communications, told the Los Angeles Times. According to its website, the museum was closed on December 5 and December 6 “to protect the collections from smoke from fires in the region,” but as of now, the art inside is staying put.

Though every museum has its own way of protecting the priceless works inside it, the Los Angeles Times notes that the Getty Center was constructed in such a way as to protect its contents from the very kind of emergency it's currently facing. The air throughout the gallery is filtered by a system that forces it out, rather than a filtration method which would bring air in. This system will keep the smoke and air pollutants from getting into the facility, and by closing the museum this week, the Getty is preventing the harmful air from entering the building through any open doors.

There is also a water tank at the facility that holds 1 million gallons in reserve for just such an occasion, and any brush on the property is routinely cleared away to prevent the likelihood of a fire spreading. The Getty Villa, a separate campus located in the Pacific Palisades off the Pacific Coast Highway, was also closed out of concern for air quality this week.

The museum is currently working with the police and fire departments in the area to determine the need for future closures and the evacuation of any personnel. So far, the fires have claimed more than 83,000 acres of land, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people and the temporary closure of I-405, which runs right alongside the Getty near Los Angeles’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

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This 77-Year-Old Artist Saves Money on Art Supplies by 'Painting' in Microsoft Excel
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It takes a lot of creativity to turn a blank canvas into an inspired work of art. Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi makes his pictures out of something that’s even more dull than a white page: an empty spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.

When he retired, the 77-year-old Horiuchi, whose work was recently spotlighted by Great Big Story, decided he wanted to get into art. At the time, he was hesitant to spend money on painting supplies or even computer software, though, so he began experimenting with one of the programs that was already at his disposal.

Horiuchi's unique “painting” method shows that in the right hands, Excel’s graph-building features can be used to bring colorful landscapes to life. The tranquil ponds, dense forests, and blossoming flowers in his art are made by drawing shapes with the software's line tool, then adding shading with the bucket tool.

Since picking up the hobby in the 2000s, Horiuchi has been awarded multiple prizes for his creative work with Excel. Let that be inspiration for Microsoft loyalists who are still broken up about the death of Paint.

You can get a behind-the-scenes look at the artist's process in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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