Not many Montrealers are aware that the huge stained glass mural in the Place des Arts metro station was created by Frédéric Back. It is the largest of the stained glasses he did between 1960 and 1967.
Frederic Back learned the technique of painting on glass from Nicolas Sollogoub, one of his colleagues at Niagara Films in the 1950s. Together they created fake stained glass windows for sets on the program Le Roman de la science. Some years later, the interior designer and decorator Claude Hinton made use of this expertise when he hired Frédéric Back for his interior architecture projects. He was the first to commission him to create stained glass windows, one for the Holiday Inn in the Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy and another for the Holiday Inn on Côte-de-Liesse Road in Montreal.
In the 1960s, with the trend to building everything as quickly and cheaply as possible, grand cathedrals were a thing of the past. Accepting this as a sign of the times, Frédéric Back made a virtue of working within these constraints. The technique he used produced the sparkle and beauty of traditional stained glass but at a fraction of the cost and in far less time.
Frédéric Back always used the same technique no matter what stained glass creation he was working on. He would first sketch the design. Usually he chose square or rectangular glass panes, which would be mounted in wooden frames at the end of the process. Next he would blacken the entire surface of the glass, using automobile paint, which is easy to spray on and very resistant. He would then copy the sketched design, scratching it into the paint with metal etching points and blades so as to let the light shine through. Behind this first layer of glass, he would lay several other plates of glass coated with transparent coloured varnish. The design was thus monochrome; it was fluorescent lights shining through the varnished glass plates that produced the colour, sparkle and depth. To keep the varnish from deteriorating on contact with the light and air, it was always enclosed between two plates of glass.
Since Frédéric Back's stained glass creations were usually huge-several metres wide by several metres high-he had to find large enough spaces to work. The stained glass projects for the Holiday Inns were made in a barn he rented in the Quebec village of Huberdeau, while the one for St. Anne's Church in Mattawa was made in a basement in the Montreal neighbourhood of St-Henri. For the stained glass he did for Châteaubriand, he took advantage of the warm weather to use his brother-in-law Maurice Paquin's ski resort in Saint-Faustin. Only the mural for the Place des Arts metro station was made in his Côte-Sainte-Catherine studio.