As Seen on ‘The Office’: A Beloved Watercolor of a Paper Company

The painting hung in the Dunder Mifflin offices for six seasons.

Jenna Fischer as Pam in The Office (2005–13). Photo: Screen grab.

Art is an under-sung plot device on The Office, the celebrated sitcom that followed the everyday lives of office workers at the Scranton headquarters of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

The office’s receptionist Pam Beesly (played by Jenna Fischer) spends much of the show contemplating her art practice. We first hear of it in season two, when she admits her girlhood dream of becoming an artist. Near the end of that episode, Pam frets that she’ll never achieve her dream during a mockumentary-style confessional.

Her talents are fleshed out as the series develops: in season three, when she draws a wanted ad imagining the office clown Dwight (Rainn Wilson) as a pervert, and again in the following season, when she animates the end of a Dunder Mifflin ad starring her boss, Michael (Steve Carell). She would later move to New York to study art, before giving that up to start a family with her co-worker Jim (John Krasinski). Still, Pam continues painting, creating a mural for the Dunder Mifflin warehouse in season nine.

Steve Carrell in The Office (2005–13), alongside the framed watercolor painting by Pam. Photo: Screen grab.

But Pam’s creative breakthrough happens in the third season, when she finds herself stuck in a dead-end relationship and struggling to escape her insecurities. She invites the office to see her watercolors in a local art showcase, where her boyfriend inanely tells her, “Your art is the prettiest art of all art.”

Michael attends the show, too, offering Pam the evening’s only substantial encouragement. He buys her watercolor of Dunder Mifflin, bringing her to tears. The painting would hang in the office throughout the following six seasons.

“If you try to be an artist of any kind, you have to believe in yourself so profoundly,” writer Brent Forrester said of Pam’s practice on the podcast Office Ladies, hosted by Fischer and her co-star Angela Kinsey. While that wisdom’s real, Pam’s painting wasn’t. Fischer added that writer Kent Zbornak told her the work was actually a photograph manipulated to look like a watercolor.

A print based on Pam Beesly’s watercolor painting of the Dunder Mifflin office. Photo: NBC Store.

But the fictional painting meant something real to Fischer. She fought to save the piece from a planned bit in season six where the work is accidentally destroyed. “You cannot destroy Pam’s painting,” she told screenwriter Paul Lieberstein. “It’s the heartbeat of the show.”

The series concludes with Pam taking the watercolor off the office wall before heading back to her new home in Austin. Off screen, Fischer asked to have the prop, but her request was denied. On Office Ladies, Fischer admitted that prop master Phil Shea made a copy and gave her the original. Diehard fans have been known to paint the piece themselves, in hopes she might autograph it.

As Seen On explores the paintings and sculptures that have made it to the big and small screensfrom a Bond villain’s heisted canvas to the Sopranos’ taste for Renaissance artworks. More than just set decor, these visual works play pivotal roles in on-screen narratives, when not stealing the show.

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