A Lasting Legacy

Judson Studios remembered in new book
By Kamala Kirk

For more than a century, Judson Studios has created stained glass installations for projects around the world, ranging from historic landmarks and religious institutions to private residences.

Founded in 1897 by painter and professor William Lees Judson and his three sons, Judson is the oldest family-run stained glass company in the United States. Throughout the years, they have continued to build upon their legacy due to their level of expertise, Old World craftsmanship, and commitment to artistic innovation. 

The first book to document Judson’s 124-year history was published in March by Angel City Press. Co-authored by Steffie Nelson and David Judson, fifth-generation president of Judson Studios and William’s great-great grandson, “Judson: Innovation in Stained Glass” covers generations of the studio’s famed projects and collaborations. 

“The book was inspired by the creation of the new studio,” Judson says. “I found that as I was making decisions for the future of the studio, I really needed to look into its past to see when it performed its best and when it struggled the most. Expanding the company felt like a risky endeavor—knowing more about its past helped me ease my fears.”

Judson Studios was established in Downtown Los Angeles before moving to its Highland Park location in 1920, which was declared a historic monument in 1969 and remains open to this day. In 2016, the company expanded to open a second facility in South Pasadena, which hosts most of its contemporary projects and also serves as a space for exploring innovative techniques and opportunities in fused and kiln-formed glass.

“Our big push has been in the realm of fused glass,” Judson says. “When we expanded our studio to a second location, it was to move into a state-of-the-art fusing studio with six kilns, cold working/polishing equipment, and a dozen light tables to create our glass panels. No one has ever created such a major studio dedicated to working in fused glass, and we are putting together a talented team of artisans to work with fine artists in developing the future of stained glass design.”

Through 11 chapters and 300 original images, the book sheds a unique light on a fairly unknown part of the history of Los Angeles that is a visual delight. It begins with patriarch William Lees Judson’s move to Southern California and his involvement with the arts community, eventually leading to his appointment as dean of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California. In 1906, his son Walter founded the family’s first studio, W.H. Judson Art Glass Company.

“The book took a little over four years to put together,” Judson shares. “To be honest, working on it was a struggle for me and way more work than I was expecting, but finding older projects that my forefathers carried out that I did not know much about was worth the effort. One of the most interesting projects I learned a lot about was the Cadet Chapel at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.”

Among his favorite historical projects that are highlighted in the book are the 1914 dome at the Natural History Museum, which Judson Studios restored in the early 2000s, along with the globe at the LA Central Library in Downtown.

“Both of these projects feel like hidden gems in the fabric of our wonderful city,” Judson said. “There are also amazing pictures of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses where Judson did work in the 1920s for the legendary architect. Some of the more recent collaborative projects we have done with contemporary artists represent the intriguing future ahead for stained glass.”

Despite a long history of success, Judson Studios faced its biggest challenge yet during the COVID-19 crisis, which forced it to completely close its operations—a first in the company’s 124-year history.

“The pandemic has been an extremely stressful scenario for us,” Judson says. “Coming back online has been difficult to manage, but luckily our crew is used to working with PPE and other precautions, so we are getting back up to speed pretty quickly. A number of our artists are working from home now at least part time, so we are really having to adapt our communication skills while working apart.”

Judson’s latest project is developing art glass for dozens of the Seattle Sound Transit Authority’s expanded public transportation line stations and working on a 3D pagoda with artist James Jean that will create an immersive experience in colored art glass. 

“We will also be restoring the windows at the Air Force Academy chapel starting this fall, which will take us approximately four years to complete,” Judson says. “I hope people get a chance to go through our book and experience some of the wonderful projects that Judson has been lucky enough to be involved with over the years.”

“Judson: Innovation in Stained Glass” is available for purchase at all major bookstores in Los Angeles, including Vroman’s in Pasadena. Copies can also be purchased at angelcitypress.com. For more information, visit judsonstudios.com. 

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