Painter, Sculptor, Glass Maker
Marcelle Ferron, 1995
The story of the Ferron family in Quebec is fascinating. Three of the five children in the family are famous in Quebec and around the world: Jacques and Madeleine as writers, and Marcelle as painter, sculptor and glass maker.
Marcelle Ferron was born into a middle-class family in Louiseville in 1924. She was only seven when her mother died. Her father, a notary by profession, ensured his entire family's education in a very liberal manner. After his wife's death, he moved to the country where he hoped the fresh air would be healthful for his children. He was right. All of the children profited from the activities of rural life and, at their father's side, developed a liberal attitude that made them independent people involved in the transformation of Quebec society in the 40s.
At the age of three, Ferron suffered from osseous tuberculosis. She had frequent stays at the hospital, and it was there that she forged her independent spirit, her passion, her love of life and her straight talk. Marcelle had no time to lose. Her life would be marked, physically and intellectually, by the effect of her illness a "bad leg"-- as she, herself, used to say. In spite of these problems, Marcelle Ferron led a full and luminous life; she was dynamic, an early feminist, a fighter, and a straightforward woman of integrity throughout her life.
After high school, in Montréal at the Dames de Ste-Anne de Lachine, then at the Collège Marguerite-Bourgeois with the Dames de la Congrégation, Marcelle Ferron registered at the Québec École des beaux- arts. She quit her studies before completing her training, however, because she was dissatisfied with her teachers' answers to her questions on modern art. She sought these answers elsewhere.
After a few years of experimentation, during which she married and had three children, she met Paul-Émile Borduas, who became her mentor and taught her the basics of "Automatiste" painting. Thanks to Borduas, Ferron succeeded in creating a style of painting that allowed her to express a personal vision of life without being constrained by traditional methods of representation.
In 1946, at Borduas' invitation, she joined the group of painters known as the Automatistes. She was one of the youngest signatories of the Refus global manifesto in 1948, and one of the last artists to officially join the group. Shortly thereafter, she exhibited her works for the first time at the Librairie Tranquille. This was followed by another exhibit, with her friend Jean-Paul Mousseau, although illness prevented her from attending the opening. She began to gain recognition in the art world. Towards 1953, as the Automatiste group disintegrated, Marcelle Ferron decided to go to France.
She separated from her husband, René Hamelin, and left for France with her three daughters, for whom she wished to provide a secular education. She spent the majority of her 13 years abroad at Clamart, a suburb of Paris, where she rented a house and set up her studio. This was a very productive period. She laid the foundation for her career as painter, got the attention of gallery owners, and got noticed by influential people in the art world in France such as Herta Wescher, who took her under her wing and helped her to exhibit throughout Europe. Her works, abstracts full of light and life, pleased the Europeans.
Ferron frequented the Paris cafés and made connections with artists settled in Paris, or passing through, such as Léon Bellefleur, Jean Lefébure, Edmund Alleyn, Charles Delloy and Jean-Paul Riopelle. Her sojourn in France was significant for her career as a painter. It was an internationally recognized artist who returned to Quebec in 1966; however, she had very specific ideas as to her future career.
Her meeting with the glass maker Michel Blum marked a turning point in her life. Working with glass allowed her to explore light and colours fully, both of which already formed the basis of her painting. Determined, she associated herself with the Superseal company of St. Hyacinthe and, collaborating with a team of workers, invented a method that allowed her to build walls of light by inserting sheets of antique glass between two walls of glass, the surfaces between joined by invisible joints that she, herself, perfected.
She devoted herself to working with glass for the next seven years. Her first achievement was a mural for Expo 67, but it was the one that she created for the Champ-de-Mars metro station that made her known and appreciated by all Quebeckers. Several public buildings are enriched by her glassworks, including the Granby courthouse her favourite glasswork and the hospital at Trois-Rivières. Churches and government buildings are also adorned with her grandiose and luminous glassworks, and she happily created many glass doors.
This period was filled with research, experimentation and social involvement. In a catalogue dedicated to the artist, Louise Vignault wrote : "L'art public lui permettra d'établir un lien entre l'univers de l'artiste et l'art public et de rejoindre des préoccupations plus vastes" (p.13). (Public art will allow her to establish a link between the world of the artist and public art and to delve into broader concerns.) [Translation] During this period, Marcelle Ferron also taught architecture and art at the Université Laval.
Marcelle Ferron returned to painting around 1985. She had not lost her fire. As she so often said, she did not paint for collectors; she painted and created through passion and, it must be said, through need.
In 1983, she was the first woman to receive the Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas, of which she was very proud. Although she never let the fact that she was a female artist stop her, Ferron had to work hard to establish herself and gain recognition in the male-dominated art world. Today, she is an inspiration to young women artists who are starting out in the craft.
Ferron has received other major honours. The Government of Quebec recognized her by decorating her with the Ordre national du Québec and, in 2000, she was named Grand Officer of the Ordre national du Québec. Several Internet sites list her former exhibits and the prizes that she won throughout her career. Among her achievements is the silver medal she won at the Sao Paolo Biennial in Brazil, in 1961 the first time a Quebec woman has won this prize.
Delving into the cultural universe of Marcelle Ferron gives one a sudden feeling for the artist. Marcelle Ferron broke the ground for women painters in Quebec. Daring, headstrong and devoted to her art and her work, she faced and overcame many obstacles. Through her work as a glass maker, she contributed to research in the applied arts in the field of architecture in Quebec. Her life as a painter and her political and social views have rendered her a permanent fixture of our cultural landscape. Marcelle Ferron died in 2001.
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(available in French only)
Ferron, Marcelle. L'esquisse d'une mémoire. Propos recueillis par Michel Brûlé. Montréal : Les Intouchables, c1996. 298 p.
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Marcelle Ferron [online]. Galerie Simon Blais (Montréal). [Cited April 9, 2002]. Access: www.galeriesimonblais.com/en/artisteOeuvres.php?id=13
Marcelle Ferron [online]. The Moore Gallery Ltd. (Toronto), c1998. [Cited April 9, 2002]. Access: www.mooregallery.com/Artists/Ferron/
Ferron, Marcelle [video recording]. Montréal : Office national du film du Canada, 1989. 51 min. 20 sec. : sound, col.
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Parent, Andrée. "Une rencontre avec Marcelle Ferron 1924-2001". Les Elles de la culture [online] c2001. [Cited April 9, 2002]. [Interviews - Audio]. Access: www.lesellesdelaculture.com/site.html
Roberge, Gaston. Autour de Marcelle Ferron. Québec, Québec : Le Loup de Gouttière, 1995. 101 p.
Smart, Patricia. Les femmes du Refus global. Montréal : Boréal, 1998. P. 211-230