Color and Pattern: Tales From One of the Oldest Family-Run Stained-Glass Studios in the Country
Company: The Judson Studios
Location: Los Angeles
No. of employees: 25
Fun fact: Judson Studios’ historic facility is open to the public for tours the second Thursday of each month.
David Judson grew up working in the stained-glass studio his great-great-grandfather, painter and art professor William Lees Judson, founded in Los Angeles in 1897.
Today, he’s president of The Judson Studios, one of the oldest family-run stained-glass studios in the country, which designs and fabricates new stained-glass windows and restores old ones at sites including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois; the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles (pictured at top); and the Kaumakapili Church, a 1911 Gothic Revival-style church in Hawaii.
Since 1920, Judson Studios has operated out of a Craftsman-inspired building in the city’s Highland Park neighborhood, built in 1900 for the University of Southern California’s School of Art. “To be in that space draws something out of your soul,” Judson says. “You’re trying to live up to the people who worked there before you, and the best way to respect [them] is to build on what they’ve done.”
On the Job
While Judson grew up around the family business, he has no formal training in the craft. His key to success? Embracing collaboration. “Working in the field with other restoration experts is where you’ll get most of your knowledge,” says Judson, who is also the president of The Stained Glass Association of America. “You learn something new with every project, and you just keep improving.”
To determine their restoration approach, Judson and his team first dig into the history of the building where the window is located. “You have to understand its context,” he says. They also learn everything they can about who made the window, and when, and what techniques and materials were used. “Some methods can be improved upon, but other times, the old way is best,” he says.
Judson believes there’s a greater understanding today of how different techniques and materials perform over time. “Glass is a stable material. It doesn’t necessarily deteriorate unless it’s in an aggressive environment,” he says. But the stained-glass panels attached to the saddle bars—horizontal metal bars secured to the window jambs—can warp, changing the appearance and integrity of the window. And paint can break down if it wasn’t fired or mixed properly when first applied. Judson and his team try to approach each restoration creatively, using their kilns to create varied color effects, for instance. He says, “I sometimes wonder how people are going to approach this glass 100 years from now.”