Painting and photography with a contemporary twist commemorate National Historic Preservation Week in three new exhibits at the RiverSea Gallery. Photographers John Maher, Andrew E. Cier and LaRee Johnson and painter Laura Dessen show recent work May 1-June 9. An opening reception for the artists is 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, May 1.

"Yaquina Bay Bridge," hand-painted black and white silver gelatin photograph by John Maher.Maher took his first photographs at 15 years old, with a shoe box camera fitted with aluminum foil and a pinhole aperture made by a sewing machine needle. In this exhibit, "Sometimes I Dream," the nationally known artist relies on another old-fashioned technique. Maher hand-colors his landscapes with transparent oils using cotton swabs and tiny brushes to achieve what he calls a "a dreamlike quality that has ethereal, other-wordly appeal." Because of the detail of composition and his specially formulated paints, each unique photograph has what he terms a "naturalistic look." Relying on strong composition, Maher says his goal is to create a timeless image "beyond technique" so the viewer can be drawn in by the total picture. Maher, a resident of The Dalles, was featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Oregon Art Beat" in 2002. His most recent exhibits are in Scottsdale, Ariz., Houston and Austin, Texas, and Seattle.

"Lobby Chandeliers," photograph by LaRee Johnson."Focus on the Liberty" is a photographic tribute to the restoration of the historic Astoria theater. Local artists Cier and Johnson reveal hidden charms of the theater's elegant public spaces. In fascinating contrast are photographs of the backstage areas before restoration. Images on fabric banners and panels emphasize the theater's timeless architecture.

Highlighting the remarkable detail and grandeur of the Liberty allows Cier to create what he calls "small, intimate pieces that uniquely portray an evocative mood or feeling." Cier has previously exhibited photographs of other notable Astoria buildings. According to Johnson, digital photography and alteration allow her to personalize her enthusiasm for "our historical past and our historic community." Cier and Johnson recently published "Destination: The Pacific Guidebook and Personal Journal," which includes photographs and quotes for Lewis and Clark sites in Washington and Oregon.

"1309 Jerome," acrylic on canvas by Laura Dessen, 2004.The vacant rooms of "Local Address" hint at personal and architectural history in Dessen's intriguing acrylics of scenes that she calls "roomscapes." Portraying houses known to her from her childhood in Astoria, Dessen likes to focus on what she terms the "bare bones" of an interior space. Her rich colors complement the stark composition and enable her to accent one element of a room, such as a lamp or piece of furniture. Dessen says that her doorways looking into other rooms reveal the house's layout and "how the house might have been a long time ago." Dessen has exhibited at Eastern Oregon University, Portland's Anne Frank Exhibit, and at George Fox University Gallery. This is her first solo show.

RiverSea Gallery is open daily at 1160 Commercial St. in the heart of Astoria's historic downtown. The gallery features contemporary North Coast and Northwest artists, with original fine art and fine craft in all media and distinctive designer jewelry. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For information, call the gallery at (503) 325-1270.

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