Prop Spotlight: Potter’s Paintings

Introduction

Near the end of Season Four, one of Colonel Potter’s hobbies was introduced: painting. In “The More I See You” he sets up his easel out in the open to a portrait of Radar and later, in his office, paints Klinger holding a discus (or, more accurately, a plate).

Colonel Potter Painting in The More I See You
Colonel Potter Painting in “The More I See You”

Over the next eight seasons he is seen painting numerous times, although occasionally the actual paintings are never shown. The question of who painted these paintings has intrigued M*A*S*H fans for decades. It was not actually Harry Morgan, although he obviously faked the act of painting many times. Nor was it Gary Burghoff, an accomplished wildlife artist (or, for that matter, Kellye Nakahara, an accomplished watercolor artist).

In January 1997, Larry Gelbart confirmed in a post to alt.tv.mash (the M*A*S*H Usenet group) that Burghoff was not the artist:

Potter’s paintings were not the work of Gary Burghoff. They were done by studio artisans.

Larry Gelbart

And in February 2002, he made a succinct post in response to a question about whether Harry Morgan actually painted the paintings:

>Just wondered if Harry Morgan reall DID paint them
>

No.

LG

So who did paint them? In March 1996, Michael Hirsh made the following post to about the identity of the artist responsible for the paintings:

The paintings were done by an artist hired by the MASH propmaster.

And in November 1997, Hirsch posted the following, again stating that the unidentified painter was hired by the M*A*S*H propmaster:

Leroy Nieman wouldn’t work for what the MASH propmaster would pay to have “Potter’s Paintings” painted. Getting those pictures painted was a fairly routine assignment for a Hollywood propmaster. While I don’t know who he hired, I’m reasonably certain there were any number of artists working in LA who would gladly have taken on the job.

MH

The actual artist (or artists, as the case may be) has never been identified.

Paintings Shown On Screen

In “The More I See You,” Potter is seen working on two paintings. First, he paints a portrait of Radar holding a medical bag:

Colonel Potter's Painting of Radar from The More I See You
Colonel Potter’s Painting of Radar from “The More I See You”

Later, he paints Klinger with a discus, mid-throw:

Colonel Potter's Painting of Klinger from The More I See You
Colonel Potter’s Painting of Klinger from “The More I See You”

In “Hawkeye Get Your Gun,” Potter paints Hawkeye with his feet up on a table, holding a drink:

Colonel Potter's Painting of Hawkeye from Hawkeye Get Your Gun
Colonel Potter’s Painting of Hawkeye from “Hawkeye Get Your Gun”

In “The Winchester Tapes,” Potter paints Charles with a rather angry expression on his face (“Don’t change the color of your face, I’m out of umber!”):

Colonel Potter's Painting of Charles from The Winchester Tapes
Colonel Potter’s Painting of Charles from “The Winchester Tapes”

In “They Call the Wind Korea,” Potter paints his own thumb:

Colonel Potter's Painting of His Thumb from They Call the Wind Korea
Colonel Potter’s Painting of His Thumb from “They Call the Wind Korea”

In “Depressing News,” Potter paints Hawkeye next to his tongue depressor monument:

Colonel Potter's Painting of Hawkeye from Depressing News
Colonel Potter’s Painting of Hawkeye from “Depressing News”

In “Rumor At The Top,” Potter paints a portrait of Father Mulcahy in his Catholic finery:

Colonel Potter's Painting of Father Mulcahy from Rumor At The Top
Colonel Potter’s Painting of Father Mulcahy from “Rumor At The Top”

In “Picture This,” Potter goes to great lengths to paint a group portrait:

Colonel Potter's Painting of The Cast from Picture This
Colonel Potter’s Painting of The Cast from “Picture This”
Paintings Not Shown on Screen

In “Dear Uncle Abdul,” Potter works on a self-portrait, using Klinger atop a horse as a body double (“Suck in that nose!”), planning to work in his own face at a later date. In “Heal Thyself,” while in bed, he works on an unidentified painting. And in “Bottom’s Up” he paints a United States president.

In “War Co-Respondent,” Aggie O’Shea and Potter discuss Potter’s paintings, including an incomplete painting of Sophie and his paintings of Radar, Klinger, his thumb, and Charles. Aggie asks Potter whether he has ever done a painting of B.J., to which Potter replies that he is not too good on teeth. At the end of the episode, Aggie sends Potter a drawing of B.J.

The Paintings in Potter’s Office

As they were created, the various paintings were hung in Potter’s office. His portrait of Radar was hung on the wall behind his desk for a while. It later later seen on the wall to the left of the doors into the office, above Klinger with the discus. Later, Radar was replaced by Potter’s thumb. The painting of Charles was added to the right side of the door. Klinger with the discus was later replaced by the painting of Charles, which itself was replaced by Hawkeye and his tongue depressor monument. His portrait of Father Mulcahy was later added to the wall below Charles.

At some point, all of the paintings were removed for reasons unknown. They are not present in any of the episodes actually produced for Season 11 but can be seen in episodes that were held over from Season 10.

Where Are They Now?

The current whereabouts of the paintings is not known. They were not sent to the Smithsonian in July 1983 for used in the “Binding Up the Wounds” exhibit (read more about the exhibit here). It is possible they were given to members of the cast or crew once production ended. None are known to have been auctioned off.

Published on March 14th, 2012
Last updated November 10th, 2013

28 Comments

  • Tim Foust says:

    The one where klinger is throwing the disscus he said “I think I’ll call this one, Greek Athelete.” this is the one where he asked klinger if he was a little cold because his skin was blue, and he told klinger a little more latissamis, his back. His at ease pose what the thinker. So Potter got just about all the different greek poses. hehehe
    Its a great life when all you have to do is watch episodes of MASH

  • Tim Foust says:

    You are missing one though, When Potter had the mumps and was painting in bed. We didnt get to see that painting either.

  • Not sure if this counts or not, but in one early Season Seven episode (not sure which one), Margaret goes on yet another one of her rants about Donald: Potter’s gathering his painting things, sees Margaret through the window, then rushes to beat it outside before she can come into his office, which she ends up doing in unrealistically quick timing.

    POTTER: Not now Major, I want to get out there and paint that sunset.
    MARGARET: It’s only 4:00 in the afternoon.
    POTTER: I like to paint in the sky first.

  • Terry says:

    Ok I know it’s not a Potter original, but how about the painting of BJ with a life preserver round his waist painted by Aggie O’shea ?

  • Anon says:

    Those pics should be auctioned! Or given to a fine-art museum :-)

  • Tim Foust says:

    I cant believe the artist were unknown. I would have been proud to have painted a picture that showed on the TV show MASH and Everybody would have known I did that.

  • MASHGuy says:

    My favourite one is of Radar!

  • Simon says:

    I was about to say that many of the paintings make a reappearance in an episode of After MASH. It was in the episode called ‘Chief of Staff’ where most of the contents of Colonel Potter’s office arrive from Korea. But when I took a closer look, it was obvious that they were all reproductions. The painting of Father Mulcahy looks nothing like the original. And in the painting of Radar, he’s holding his teddy bear instead of a medical bag.

  • M*I*K*E says:

    Being a huge fan of MASH, I am very lucky to be in possession of one of the famed “Potter’s Paintings”. I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. The painting I have is Hawkeye Get Your Gun, that particular episode is one of my favorites. Being an avid fan of MASH I pounced at the chance to own the painting. It is one of my most prized possessions. My whole family watched the show religiously and I have very fond memories of our time spent together watching the show. I was very sad when the series ended, like every other fan of the show, I am sure. The series ended the year I graduated from high school, and there is even a reference to it in my High School year book. So, the show and the painting hold a special place in my heart. It’s nice to see there are other big fans of the show even though it has been almost 30 years since the last episode aired.

    • RJ says:

      M*I*K*E, how were you able to get your hands on one of the paintings?

      • Jess says:

        I don’t know how much truth there is to this (it sounds like there’s quite a bit of mystery that shrouds these paintings!), but I think it might have been a rare eBay auction. A cursory Google search regarding the paintings brought me to another site where someone asked the same question, and they only mentioned that the painting with Hawkeye with his feet on the desk (the one M*I*K*E says he owns) was briefly up on the site. I feel like there probably would have been tons of commotion about it if it was really ever on eBay, but then again the details (from ostensibly separate sources) seem to match up. If the auction was one of those that kind of get sucked into the large space of eBay, it could absolutely be a ‘right place, right time’ sort of thing if he happened to submit a search for it when it was up. Anyway, congrats M*I*K*E for being able to own a much sought-after piece of history!

    • Lipos says:

      M*I*K*E,
      congratulations to your success in getting one of those paintings.
      Do you have any idea how to get to any other one of them?
      Thank you

  • megs says:

    Hello all… I have been perusing the net in search of the replicas of these paintings.. does anyknow where I may procure them … or will I have to hire someone to paint them?? Thank you for your time.

  • smilin' jack says:

    Im painting them for myself, lll post pics when im done if you want the original ill sell it to you, or if you just want a copy ill send you one. I paint for a profession so these shouldn’t take me too long to finish up.

  • smilin' jack says:

    that post was in reference to megs post

  • So was GFA produced during Season Ten? I seem to recall seeing the portrait of Father Mulcahy in Potter’s office when B.J. first said his goodbye to him.

    • RJ says:

      GFA was filmed in October 1982 during production of Season Eleven. I just checked and you are correct, at least some of the paintings can be seen in Potter’s office during the episode. But I did not seen the paintings in any of the other Season Eleven episodes when I was working on this spotlight.

  • China Mike says:

    That guy Mike, that posted he got one of the paintings. That is very hard to believe. First of all, he didn’t bother posting a photo of it somewhere to prove it. Second of all, nobody else has ever seen one “out there”, so I think he is full of it.

  • J. Michael Laidlaw says:

    I don’t know the present whereabouts – sure wish I did – of the painting of Colonel Potter’s thumb, but I do know the artist was Robert A. Woolfe. Bob, a native of New England, was a veteran Hollywood studio artist and continued to paint until shortly before his death. He died November 1, 2004 at the age of 84.

    • I must say I was a bit disappointed to find out that Harry Morgan didn’t paint them. I was under the (mistaken) impression that he was a painter in his own right. As for copies, I’m sure they’re available on line…somewhere. Everything else is.

  • IONUT says:

    in several episodes of “M*A*S*H” (1972), Col. Potter was seen painting portraits, mainly of the other characters. These portraits were actually painted by Morgan. imdb

  • 22nluvM.A.S.H says:

    Anyone know where to get at least good replicas of col. Potters paintings? (particularly Hawkeye or the thumb)

  • I have a painting that was told to me, was a gift from Harry Morgan, that he had painted it. It was a scene along the Lakeshore. the person who told me he was the painter was his daughter in law at that time. Has anyone heard of him painting off of MASH?

  • Mac says:

    Am I the only person who thinks the Potter thumb picture looks disturbingly like it’s a self portrait of Col Potter’s penis whenever I watch episodes with it in?

  • Tijs says:

    Wow, I was just looking around for info on the Potter Paintings… and here it says nobody knows where they are?

    I’m from Holland and am watching from the series daily (stored on my NAS).
    I love it. And after once again watching the episode in which Potter paints a picture of the entire staff the other day I started wondering if I would ever get the opportunity to own one of these paintings. Or even a repro would be great, but if the paintings are lost… even that seems to be a fruitless wish. I’m so sad…

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