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Marcelle Ferron- Stained Glass Panels Champ de Mars, Montreal

Creation
Marcelle Ferron was an influential contemporary artist in Quebec for much of the 20th Century. Born the
third child in 1924 to a middle class family in Louiseville, Quebec, Ferron learned to appreciate the value of life at a young age. After spending time in the hospital dealing with her own illness, osseous tuberculosis, from the age of three, she lost her mother when she was only seven. Ferron began her early career as painter who sought out a style that would allow her to fully express herself and her interests. She found a group of like minded artists while attending classes at l’École du Meuble taught by Paul-Émile Borduas. The group of artist named their avant-garde movement Automatism in 1947.

Ferron enjoyed some success as a painter in Montreal, but after signing her name to the group’s manifesto Refus Global, she found she had been blacklisted from the Montreal art scene. In 1953, Ferron left for Paris with her three daughters and began to develop her joyous use of colour while travelling through Europe. At her first solo show in Paris the critic Herta Wesher, who became one of Ferron’s supporters in Europe, commented that Ferron’s use of transparent and opaque areas were becoming more pronounced. Ferron had grown as an artist and was enjoying success as a painter again. After a solo exhibition in Montreal in 1957 a critic’s review proves to be very insightful and even prophetic. Rodolphe Repentigny commented: “She achieves the third dimension as if, instead of ‘taches d’aquarelle’ there were pieces of coloured glass.”
With critical success, Ferron still sought a style that would allow her to fully express herself. She wanted a new technique that would allow her to reach more of the public, rather than working exclusively for the elite avant-garde galleries. In 1963, Ferron was given her first public commission to paint a mural from architect from Louis Lapierre. Ferron said “that I, a woman, should have been commissioned to paint a mural of about 1000 square meters – that would have been impossible ten years ago.” Timing was now everything, and in the same year, Ferron found the expressive medium she had been looking for her whole career. Ferron recalled “quite by accident, I entered a little-known Paris gallery with a large exhibition of glass slabs on which artists had worked at the time of their creation. For me, it was a relevation.”
Quebec’s Quiet Revolution in the 1960’s proved to be a positive influence on Quebec’s art movements. Material culture became widely appreciated, and the government commissioned more public works in celebration of the Quebec people. While Ferron devoted herself to developing her stained glass techniques, she produced impressive glass works for Expo ’67. The University of Toronto exhibited her work the same year, and again in 1968 at Hart House. June 1968, Ferron’s stained glass panels at the Champ de Mars metro station officially opened.
Reception
Contemporary critic Jean Sarrazin wrote in Vie des Arts, “She discovered that the canvas on the wall has hardly any meaning anymore except in necropolis museums or in the naphtaline of middle-class living rooms … Metro stations, advertising, places of work and leisure, these are the new ‘raisons d’être’ of the artistic creation.” The public’s appreciation of Ferron’s work was expressed by a cleaning woman who travelled the metro daily: “Rain or shine, there is always warmth in my heart [when I see them].” Gunda Lambton points out in Stealing the Show: Seven Women Artists in Canadian Art, that the public’s wide appreciation is still strong. Since the stained glass panels were installed in 1968, they have never been vandalized.
Ferron continued to experiment and to create many more public pieces that have met with wide approval, but according to the Library and Archives of Canada, it is “the Champ-de-Mars metro station that made her known and appreciated by all Quebeckers.” In 1983, Ferrin became the first woman to receive the Prix Borduas from the Quebec Ministère des affaires culturelles. Lambton summarizes how Ferron’s public art is understood today: “Unlike verbal language, visual language is not limited. We do not need a translator to feel the impact of Ferro’s public art. It has been designed with all of us in mind.”
Representation
Ferro’s non-figurative stained glass panels at the Champs de Mars was part of her former Automatiste colleague Mousseau’s initiative to counter then Montreal Art Director Lapalme’s ambition for figurative historical work to adorn the Montreal metro. Mousseau’s vision of non-figurative art to combine with architecture fit perfectly with Ferron’s. The panels were created from Ferron’s own special method that she had developed with the help of French inventor Michel Blum in Paris in 1963. The panels are made up of blown antique glass that is incased in between protective clear glass. The layers are all sealed together with acrylic rather than the traditional lead to create the seamless panels. Ferron perfected the technique for a Canadian climate and teamed up with the Superseal factory in Saint-Hyacinthe in order to experiment and produce large panels. Ferron expressed her feelings on the Champs de Mars project: “Glass is an entirely beautiful material … I wanted to adapt it to modern construction … to contribute something joyous, something a little sensuous.”

Sources
Lambton, Gunda. Stealing the Show: Seven Canadian Women Artists in Canadian Public Art. (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994).
Library and Archives Canada http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/women/002026-510-e.html>
Wikipedia, “Marcelle Ferron,” 14 May 2008, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcelle_Ferron>
Wikipedia, “Jean-Paul Mousseau” 25 April 2008, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Paul_Mousseau