1846 - 1905
Benjamin Willard Sears was born in Guilford, Connecticut on May 16, 1846. His father had come to California in 1852 and followed placer mining in the vicinity of Sonora. Ben and his two brothers made the trip to Sonora via Panama in 1862. He came to San Francisco in 1868 and worked as a photographer in several galleries until the early 1870s when he switched to oil painting. He spent a great deal of time in the studios of various painters where he may have learned to paint by observing the techniques of these artists. He left San Francisco in 1878 and returned to Sonora, working for a short while as a sketch artist for the United States Signal Coast Survey which took him all over northern California. While in San Francisco Sears had painted mostly nocturnes and inshore marine views, but after his return to Sonora, he concentrated on landscapes of the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite and Tuolumne County. Poor and with a wife and five children to support, Sears was often compelled to paint on what surfaces were available to him for want of canvases (i.e., door panels, pie tins, etc.) The signature on his paintings was most often the letter B overlayed with the letter S; in his later years his work became paler and bluer. He died on a sketching trip in Pacific Grove, California on November 18, 1905 and was buried in Sonora. Approximately 200 of his paintings are extant. Member: San Francisco Art Ass'n; Olympic Club. Exhibited: Newhall & Co. (San Francisco), 1877 (solo); San Francisco, 1882; Mark Hopkins Institute, 1903; Alaska-Yukon Exposition (Seattle), 1909; Society of California Pioneers, 1965. Works held: Oakland Museum; California Historical Society; Society of California Pioneers; California State Library; Tuolumne County Historical Society.
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