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Squamish metal weaver a finalist for U.S. Niche Awards

Fran Solar's work chosen from 2,000 entries

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Squamish artist Fran Solar is a finalist in the 2014 Niche Awards, which will be handed out in Philadelphia in January.

The competition runs alongside the 2014 Buyers Market of American Craft exhibition, which takes place in the city from Jan. 18 to 21. The Niche Magazine competition finalists are being shown at the same time — and the winners of each category will be announced at the buyers' market.

Of the five finalists in her category, Metal: Fabricated or Forged, Solar is the only artist to weave strips and threads of metal, which she does on a traditional loom.

The piece is called "Pleated Vessel" and weighs in at around 10 pounds.

"It's textiles; I've been a weaver for more than 40 years. I used to weave clothing and blankets, but I switched materials totally but am using the same techniques and the same way of combining colour and texture," she says.

"I have trouble explaining that to people, but I thread the looms the same way, the same kind of threading.

"The vessel selected for the Niche Awards was woven on a 45-inch floor loom. I wove about 36 inches worth of cloth for it, but it's all wire."

Solar makes other vessels of various sizes and colours depending on the metals used the finishing techniques such as sanding or firing. The vessels are then hemmed with a needle and fine wire.

In Whistler, she is represented by the Mountain Galleries at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Each year, around 2,000 artists and artisans from across North America apply for the Niche Awards, with five finalists in 35 categories chosen.

"It is quite an important competition and I am completely blown away that I made it to be a finalist. I was not expecting it," Solar said.

"This is primarily the American market and you've got so many top-level craftspeople in the United States. They allow Canadians to be a part of it as well, which is great."

The honour has come at a good time for Solar, who says that she has been unable to live off her work.

"It's a hobby, I treat it professionally... I need it because I like to design and I like working with colour and texture," Solar said.

Simultaneously, Solar's work is featuring in the latest issue of Fiber Arts Now magazine in the U.S. called "Architecturally Speaking."

Squamish ceramicist Jan Phelan encouraged Solar to apply after showing her own work at the buyers' market and being a Niche finalist twice. She last showed there in 2011 and for the previous eight years.

"Fran's work is wonderful and she's cutting edge. I found that many of the galleries that do go to this show, they're more on the cutting edge, too. I thought it would be a really good spot for her," Phelan says. "It's not easy to get into. She's really accomplished a lot in doing that."

Being part of both the buyers' market and a Niche finalist was very helpful to her own work, Phelan says.

"Any show that brings you a higher profile is a really good thing. For me, because I was at the show it helped a great deal in terms of visibility because my piece was there. The show itself, the buyers' market, is for galleries and they come from all across the United States and Canada and elsewhere, actually," she adds.

"Alaska and Guam I had orders from. It's interesting. You put up your booth and display your work and people make orders, like 'I want 10 of those for July.' That's how the show works."

Phelan felt Solar's work has an avant-garde style that would draw interest.

"Any recognition of one's work is not only very encouraging for the artist; it also helps to get the image out there to people. To know this is a legitimate and praiseworthy work of art, which in Fran's case is important. Her work is fabulous but she is the only one doing this kind of work. She's way out there," Phelan says.

To see the finalists' work visit www.nicheawards.com.

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