Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

The Tuolumne County Museum and Ventana-Annex Gallery in Sonora are joining forces to showcase the historic oil paintings of Benjamin Willard Sears.

Dennis Garcia of Sonora, owner of the Ventana Gallery and a renowned art restoration specialist, has worked with the museum in restoring six Sears paintings, as well as other artists' work in its collection.

The Ventana-Annex Gallery will debut the restored artwork, along with two Sears paintings belonging to the City of Sonora, during a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at 48 S. Washington St. The exhibit will continue through Feb. 17.

Saturday's reception will be part of Sonora's monthly Second Saturday Art Night, featuring art exhibitions at numerous locations along Washington Street.

Sears was born in 1846 in Guilford, Conn., with a father who came to California in 1852 to pursue mining.

Sears later arrived in Sonora with his brothers in 1862. He ventured to San Francisco and worked as a photographer, but later chose oil painting.

He gained expertise by observing artists techniques in their studios. Sears became a sketch artist for the U.S. Coast Survey, which allowed Sears to focus on painting marine views throughout Northern California.

Returning to Sonora in 1878, Sears began painting landscapes of the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite. He died in 1905.

"I hope for the Tuolumne County Museum to grow into a history and fine art museum, which would exhibit a collection of art from Tuolumne County artists, as well as have the community donate art pieces to the museum to add to their collection," Garcia said.

The City of Sonora, the Tuolumne County Museum and the Carlo M. De Ferrari Archive in Sonora have had Garcia restore artwork by Benjamin Sears.

The Sears artwork is also the subject of January's "Artists of the Mother Lode" public access television series on Comcast Channel 8 in the Sonora area.

The program, showing Garcia's restoration process of the Sears work, will air at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18, with host Kimberly Francis and videographer Rod Garside.