‘Bonanza’: Who Painted the Ponderosa Map Seen in the Credits?

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Bonanza fans, each week, were reminded of just where the Ponderosa was located — right there in Nevada. It looked like the ranch took up a good chunk of land between Reno and Carson City.

We know this because there was a map. And remember the theme? It takes you back to a time when westerns were so very popular on our TV sets.

Did you know that the artist who created the map was related to a beloved child star? Check out the theme music and get back with us on the other side. We’ll give you some cool Bonanza background you can use to impress all your friends and family.

https://youtu.be/eCU0lkWX7S4

Bonanza Map Burned Away To Reveal Cartwright Family

Bonanza ran from 1950 through 1973. The show focused on the Cartwright family — father Ben and sons Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. The intro is iconic.

As the famous theme music cranked up, we always saw the same map of Nevada, showing us the exact location of the Ponderosa Ranch. And for all 431 episodes, the map burned in flames, revealing the main cast riding towards us on horseback.

The map was hand painted. And the original never really burned. That was just a special effects TV trick.

The original of the map hung in the home of David Dortort, who created and produced Bonanza. When he died in 2010, the family donated the map to the Autry Museum of the American West. It’s located in Los Angeles.

Artist First Significant Work Was Painting Of Jesus

Robert Temple Ayres painted the map. The Bonanza work wasn’t his first major piece. Rather, his first, significant painting was the first one he did after completing art school in 1946. He named it “The Savior.” The painting of Jesus sold about a half-million copies and was frequently was used in Bibles and church bulletins.

It’s not surprising Ayres was so talented. His mother was an artist and pianist. Ayres’ sister was a professional violinist. His uncle also was an artist.

You probably recognize the name of his cousin — Shirley Temple. She was the famous child star who was Hollywood’s top draw from 1934-38. Shirley Temple was about 15 years younger than Ayres.

Ayres’ big Hollywood break came when he illustrated the movie Ben Hur, which starred Charlton Heston.

Possibly his most famous work is the Bonanza illustration. He painted it in 1959. And it had a simple name — Map to Illustrate the Ponderosa in Nevada. Throughout his career, Ayres worked as an artist for MGM, Paramount and Walt Disney.

He died in March, 2012, at the age of 98. And in the weeks before his death, Ayres visited the Autry Museum of the American West, where his work was on display. He said then he hadn’t seen his Bonanza art work in 50 years. Ayres visited the museum a final time three days before he died. He wanted to show his grand nephew all the art work in the American West exhibit.

By that time, Bonanza had been off the air for almost three decades. But Ayres work lived on.

 

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