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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Herb Benham

I was sitting in my office at home recently, looking at the paintings hung on the freshly whitewashed walls, and I realized our artwork wasn't worth anything.

This is to say it has no monetary value. Should an art thief break into the house, he'd sigh, walk to the fridge, pour himself a glass of milk and see what was on TV.

I have friends who collect art. They attend gallery openings, and not just to sip the free wine, but to drink in the paintings. Occasionally they buy something.

They have art in every room. Their house is like walking through a garden in bloom; color greets you no matter which way you turn.

Recently I was in their downstairs bathroom and I realized they had moved a small piece by one of Bakersfield's best artists, which was to the north of the sink and the Levolor blinds, and replaced it with an equally good painting. They have a loaner program. Their art travels.

A small watercolor of a Sierra meadow featuring a small barn, golden trees, meadow grasses and a green ridge in the background, painted by Nina Kelley, hangs in my office. It reminds me of Mammoth, my parents, summertime and wet meadows feeding the wildflowers.

Nina painted for the annual Mammoth Summer Festival. She had a feeling for the Eastern Sierra, and alpine summers came alive under her brush.

Katie and Hunter gave us a painting of Powerhouse Park in Del Mar looking north over the beach, palm trees and a volleyball court. Del Mar is 40 years of playing "Midnight" on the beach, cooking marshmallows, watching the children venturing farther in the waves until, one day, they disappeared into their own lives.

I have a framed poster of bike riders riding hot and heavy hanging on the west wall of my office. It's a Gerstein. I'll bet I'm the only one on the block who has a Gerstein.

In the upstairs landing, we are rich in photos of the kids, my parents, Sue's parents, wedding pictures three or four generations deep. Guests often pause and murmur in this part of the gallery.

In Sam's old room, there is a watercolor of Sam wearing a red, white and black baseball hat, painted in San Francisco by a street artist.

Katie's room has prints of two famous paintings: "First Steps" by Van Gogh, featuring a crouching father with his arms open as his daughter takes her first steps toward him, and "Jungle Tales" by Sir James Jebusa Shannon of a mother reading to her two girls dressed in nightgowns.

These are limited prints, limited to no more than 10 million copies and when those run out, they'll print no more than another 10 million.

Down the stairs, there is an Edward Hopper of two houses and a rock.

Behind the green chair, there is a framed poster by Puybareau of a beach scene with blue, white and yellow umbrellas. I believe we may have peeled it off a lamppost in Paris and we felt pretty racy doing it.

When my friends die, there might be an auction with collectors standing in the back of the room nodding imperceptibly.

When we go, it will be a yard sale, a $5 table and if business slows, perhaps an add-on if you buy the square cast-iron skillet.

I would suggest that, should you be available, attend both events. One will feature beautiful paintings, lovingly chosen.

The second celebration will require a pocketful of quarters and your imagination. Auction or yard sale, you're bound to get your money's worth.