WEST ORANGE, NJ – The West Orange Arts Center opened its spring season with a well-attended opening reception entitled “3 Women…3 Perspectives” on Friday.

Many area residents, including West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi, visited the center’s galleries at 551 Valley Road to enjoy seeing the art of West Orange Arts Council board members Amelia Panico, Lisa Suss and Heidi Sussman.

All three female artists, who are West Orange residents as well, were on hand to explain the distinctive perspectives displayed in their works of art. The exhibit featuring their work will run through May 28.

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Panico began her career as a photographer in medical research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center before branching out to produce photo art through photo encaustic enhancements. She transfers photos onto different textured paper, and uses pigments to turn photos into works of art.

Her focus now is capturing the historic parts of West Orange and surrounding areas, as well as national parks, which she said are both being threatened by the current political environment.

“As we look at the magnificence of our national parks, it is hard not to think of what could happen if our public land is politicized,” she said. “There is a myriad of possibilities that could destroy the innocence and integrity of our majestic American landscape. We should all come together to celebrate, treasure and protect the grandeur of our remarkable spiritual gifts from nature.”

Sussman is a photo-based, mixed media artist who combines natural and digital art media with her photographs. Working out of her studio in East Orange, she experiments with various techniques and papers to create texture and mood not apparent in a traditional flat, two-dimensional photo.

Like many photographers of her generation, Sussman had to overcome to challenge of moving from film to digital photography.

“The transition from film and dark rooms was hard, but now I’ve come to fully embrace digital photography,” she said. “The world is digital. Now that I’ve embraced this type of photography, I love it.”

In addition to showing her photo-based work, Sussman had her kaleidoscope art on display.

“Kaleidoscopes have always held a special attraction to me,” she said. “The subtlest movement can create something new and equally exciting.”

Sussman, who is the Gallery Director of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater MetroWest, currently is focusing on collages with floral and nature themes. Her work displays the networking of several groups of graphite and colored pencils with drawings and watercolors. She combines images from magazines and other print sources in her art.

“I enjoy the challenge of adapting the original pieces to a different structure and medium while maintaining the integrity of the original artworks,” she said.

Patricia Mitrano, chair of the center, said that the center and its leaders are becoming increasingly involved with the community, and are collaborating more with other art organizations in West Orange.

“We’re proud to be a part of the Valley Arts District,” she said.

Mitrano said that the center is now focusing on three strategic initiatives: getting more people in the area involved in the arts; using technology and digital media to the fullest to create more awareness of the center’s offerings; and getting board members to become more involved in promoting the center.

“It’s been wonderful to see that the arts have become more important in people’s lives and in our educational system,” said Mitrano. “STEM became STEAM because people now realize that scientists and engineers can only be fully successful if they can communicate well. It’s been proven that art and music enhance creative thinking in the sciences and math.”

Mitrano also extended her thanks to Carol Black-Lemon for laying the groundwork to successfully launch the Center a year-and-a-half ago as its first chairperson.

Two of the featured artists will be offering classes in the spring and summer. Panico will be teaching “A Class with a Glass-Pastel Photo Painting” on May 16 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sussman will be teaching “Explorations in Wax” on July 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The center is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., and by appointment. For further information about the center and upcoming offerings, go to www.woarts.org