150 Maple leaves at the Nelson Public Library

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An art installation in the form of a quilt mosaic of maple leaves greets library users these days. As well as being visually stunning, the Canada 150 challenge—150 maple leaves stitched, painted, beaded and otherwise rendered on small square boards—was a passion project of artist and designer Jane Merks.

“My parents immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s from the Netherlands,” says Merks. “Growing up, we were taught to appreciate all that Canada has to offer us and all that others offer to Canada. This country’s diversity and its acceptance of that diversity is what sets Canada apart from many other countries.”

Each leaf in the collection entitled Maple Mosaic  celebrates Canadian society’s many influences, with designs that hark to Canada’s indigenous people and those who came from Europe, Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world. Artists Lawren Harris, Maude Lewis, and Norval  Morrisseau are honoured, as well as artists who influenced Merks’ own artistic career. Nature is represented in plants and trees; there are depictions of Newfoundland’s colourful salt box houses and Quebec’s fleur-de-lis.

Merks brings to the project a diverse background in photography, painting, sculpture, textiles, printmaking, graphic design and bookbinding. She has taught graphic design at various universities throughout Canada and the United States. After Merks and her husband, Peter Bartl, moved to the Kootenays they started PB+J Press, an experimental press that produced limited edition artists’ books and letterpress ephemera. Now, Merks and Bartl focus on their own design projects through PB+J Studio.

“As I made these 150 leaves  I used techniques I haven’t worked with in years. I also learned new things, not only about the other cultures that make this country great, but also about what has influenced me as an artist and designer for over 50 years, “ Merks says. “Each piece is its own little world of colour, texture, design or technique, but it’s as a collection that it shines – as do we when we stand together.”

Merks has produced a book about the project, available for purchase at the Library. The exhibition continues until the end of February.

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