The Spectrum of Judson Studios’ Stained-Glass Artistry

David Judson, the fifth-generation owner of the Judson Studios, is interviewed by Kai Ryssdal in the firm’s South Pasadena studio for NPR’s “Marketplace” program. Judson Studios is the nation’s oldest family-run stained glass studio.
Photos courtesy David Judson

A confluence of fortunate circumstances brought David Judson, who spent his boyhood in Glendale and now lives in Pasadena, to find a place in South Pasadena to expand the Judson Studios’ vision of how to create new art from a very old tradition of using stained glass.
David Judson represents the fifth generation of Judsons to own and operate America’s oldest family-run stained-glass studio, which began in 1897 in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles, at 200 S. Avenue 66.
I sat in on a recent Zoom presentation that Judson did with more than 200 participants to promote his new book, “Judson: Innovation in Stained Glass,” which he co-authored with Steffi Nelson. The session was co-sponsored by the Glendale Historical Society and Pasadena Heritage.
The book shares the story of the Judson Studios and the people who created and continue to create artistry at the company. The account also provides more than 300 magnificent images of some of the studio’s creations, which have included work done with famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and for the thousands of churches it has worked on for more than a century.
The book details in words and photos Judson’s work on Las Vegas casinos, including Caesars Palace and the Golden Nugget; the kudos the company received for the installation of stained glass at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado; restoration efforts at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple; and work on the dome of the Natural History Museum, both in Los Angeles.
The story of what brought Judson and Bullseye Glass to South Pasadena is also the story of how the company used newly developed technology and artists trained in its use to produce something truly magnificent — a 3,400-square-foot stained-glass window that would be the centerpiece of a church in Leawood, Kansas.
Tim Carey — the former creative director at Judson who is now on his own as Tim Carey LLC — casually picked up a ringing phone as he passed the company’s front desk after a regular monthly meeting in December 2013, David Judson told participants in the Zoom call.

The Judson Studios helped create and assemble this massive fused-glass window for the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. The window is 90 feet wide and 34 feet tall, boasting more than 3,400 square feet of glass.

An architect and engineering company was calling to offer a unique challenge — to bid on an enormous massive window that would be the biggest job the studio had ever undertaken.
“We knew we were ready to try and tackle such a massive project and so the initial reaction was something like: ‘We can do this. How do we put our best foot forward?’” Judson told me in an email after the session late last month.
The company had only two weeks to create the concept. It got the assignment, which Judson said was helped by the company’s body of work and its willingness to have the church join in the design process.
To accomplish what it wanted, the company used fused glass, which can be manipulated at a lower temperature than previously used by artisans. Fused glass is created by heating the glass in a kiln.
Judson was fortunate that Bullseye Glass, based in Oregon, was an expert in this field and became involved in the project, providing glass and consultation. Judson did not need to look far to find a facility to help create fused glass. Its second studio is located at 143 Pasadena Ave. in South Pasadena, and has 5,000 square feet of airy industrial space with six kilns. This facility — only a few miles from the original studio — became the focal point for the Leawood church endeavor and now hosts most of the company’s contemporary projects.
Bullseye opened a facility next door in South Pasadena, creating what David Judson in his Zoom talk called a “community of glass.”
Another key ingredient that led to a successful conclusion of this concept was the addition of artisan Narcissus Quagliata, who had moved from traditional methods and become an expert and proponent of using fused glass. He was fascinated by the Judson church project and volunteered to work with Carey and other artisans. That opened up new possibilities of what the window could be, Judson said.
Quagliata is now director of innovation at Judson and works with the studio on further developing its capabilities in fusing, and he also trains artists using this technique.
“For years I had struggled to expand beyond the traditional design … to do something new, something that would change the world of stained glass — but now that the opportunity presented itself, the necessary commitment was nerve wracking,” Judson wrote in his book.
The stresses were not only financial, Judson recalled, but he added that “the fate of the project would be in the hands of Narcissus, a maverick artist I really did not know. … As soon as I gave in to the unpredictability, I got wrapped up in the excitement of the forward motion and never looked back.”
Judson told his audience that what he was anticipating most was seeing the image of the face of Jesus Christ coming out of the kiln.
“In my life and work, I have gazed upon more stained-glass windows of Jesus Christ than I could count, but I never saw him portrayed with purple, blue and green hair, golden skin and flecks of orange and magenta in his eyes,” Judson wrote. “In August 2016, that was the multi-colored (and multicultural) face of Christ that was firing in our custom-made kiln, nearly 300 pieces of glass fusing together at fifteen hundred degrees for 30 hours.”
The mural was finished and dedicated in 2017. One congregant, Linda Stevens, said that “when I enter our sanctuary, the magnificent window brings an instant feeling that this is a sacred place.
“Then you explore the window more thoroughly and see the window tells the biblical story from Genesis to Revelation. … It is an amazing story and message in a magnificent work of art,” she continued.
“Judson: Innovation in Art” is not just a photo book. It is actually a guidebook that allows the reader to see and understand the “real thing”: windows done by Judson at St. James’ Episcopal Church in South Pasadena; the globe chandelier in the Los Angeles Central Library; and features of the Church of the Beatitudes in Phoenix. Reading the book and looking at the photos also gave me a history lesson both in architecture and in the development of stained glass.
The book shows how Judson artists took advantage of their own skills and were willing to reach into new dimensions, from using computers for design to employing fused glass to create their masterpieces.
The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily shut down public and private tours, but I’ve visited the South Pasadena facility and it is fascinating to see how the projects are put together. It is definitely a place to put on your list of places to go — particularly since it is so close.
Check judsonstudios.com for updates on when tours will resume, or email info@judsonstudios.com.


A WINDOW ON JUDSON’S HISTORY

Some of the important dates and projects in the history of the Judson Studios.
1890: William Lees Judson moves to Los Angeles and settles on the banks of the Arroyo Seco.
1893: Judson persuades three of his sons to come to L.A. and join him in starting a studio to make stained glass.
1901: The original building for Judson’s work is also used as the campus for the USC College of Fine Arts. A fire destroyed the building in December 1910.
1911: Judson Studios moved into its new building on the same site in the Highland Park. In those early days, the building was also the headquarters for a group called the Arroyo Craftsmen, who made furniture and art objects.
1920-21: Judson works with architect Frank Lloyd Wright on the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles.
1921: Altar window for St. James’ Episcopal Church, Los Angeles.
1922: Hollywood Forever Cathedral Mausoleum.
1924: During a period of work with many area churches, Judson does a project at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.
1927: Sermon on the Mount window at University of Redlands chapel.
1955: Commissioned to create a window for the Chapel of All Creeds at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
1963: Work on the Air Force Academy’s Cadet Chapel. It is now being refurbished by Judson.
1972: Church of the Beatitudes in Phoenix. Features one of the tallest faceted windows Judson had ever made to that time.
1973: Dome in South Coast Plaza Jewel Court.
1975: Judson goes Vegas. Dome in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Early 2000s: Judson turns to computers to extend its artistry.
2003: David Judson takes over as the fifth-generation head of Judson Studios upon the death of his father.
2009: Restoration of dome of the Natural History Museum, Los Angeles.
2011: Beginning of restoration of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, one of largest restoration projects company had done up to that time.
2012: Our Savior Parish of USC Caruso Catholic Center.
2015: Opening of second facility in South Pasadena.
2017: Completion of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.
2017: Increased focus on working with local artists to help them reach their goals.