Two large floor looms take up a significant amount of space in artist Fran Solar's workshop at her home in Squamish.
On them are half-completed projects.
Solar's weaving work isn't in soft yarns, though fabric is where she started her career. The emerging weavings are thin strips of coloured copper — Solar takes the techniques she learned creating textiles over decades and applies them to metal.
On surrounding shelves and walls are samples of this woven work; Solar turns the metal cloth into wall pieces and vessels.
In 2014 and 2015, these woven artworks were selected as the best Forged and Fabricated Metal art in the Niche Awards competition in Baltimore.
And just a week ago, Solar found out she had won her third Niche Award in a row.
This time it was for a metal patchwork quilt, a form she has been working with for 20 years.
She explains her technique: "My focus when I am making them is in the traditional geometric quilt (which she has made out of fabric in the past).
"I am attracted to the shapes that can be reinvented and tweaked. I get a pattern evolving. Each basic little square is simple. You keep putting them together and make a bigger pattern, like you do in a quilt with your basic block. I do this layout spontaneously and then stitch it all down once I make the arrangement."
The publishers of Niche Magazine run the competition out of Baltimore with winners announced at the annual American Made Show in Washington, D.C., on January 16.
This year, Solar is one of 35 category winners from 1,600 submissions from around North America.
The 2016 Niche Award for her piece "Scrapyard Quilt" seals her pre-eminence as a metal artist in North America, not least because each year a new jury judges the category.
Solar is represented in Whistler by the Mountain Galleries at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Her art is also represented by the Van Dop Gallery in Vancouver.
"The winning quilt was a piece commissioned by Mountain Galleries for one of their clients last year," Solar says.
She uses stainless steel, heavy aluminum foil, zinc, copper and brass foil and fine mesh. The largest she has made to date was 11 squares across and five down.
"The fine mesh looks like silk fabric. When you heat it, it turns a dark blue-brown," she says. "And I look for weird flat pieces from scrapyards that I can arrange again into a pattern."
All designs are stitched into 20-gauge mesh. The resulting pieces have been sold to private collectors and are also seen on display as public art, including at the Squamish Library.Metal quilts are stitched together according to the size of the space; even single patches or squares have been purchased.
Solar is also in two exhibitions in 2016.
The first, a solo show with 11 pieces at the Brentwood Arts Exchange in Brentwood, Maryland (first prize for winning the Art Comes Alive competition), opened last week.
Her second show, at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte, Ont., opens in May. This is a shared exhibition with Ottawa artist Sayward Johnson.
The manager of the Mountain Galleries, Liz Peacock, says Solar's win is fantastic news.
She is the first of the gallery's artists to have won a Niche Award.
Customers admire the uniqueness of Solar's work, sculptural yet with knowledge gained as a fabric artist, Peacock says.
"They can see how she has taken that traditional textile background and given a contemporary twist to it," Peacock says.
"They love the colours and the materials that she uses, and they love to get up close and identify the pieces she's used, for example, in the Scrapyard Quilt that won this time.
"They see our paintings and sculptures and then they see her work. It's unique, interesting and something they've never seen before. It's intriguing for them for sure... it's a very high standard of work."
Peacock says Solar's work is also available at their Banff and Jasper galleries.
"I always draw attention to the fact that she uses traditional techniques in her work, like cross stitching, weaving on her loom," she says.
For more information on Solar's work visit www.mountaingalleries.com.
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