In Plain Sight: Judson Studios

America's oldest stained glass studio breaks the rules

Kobe 2017, Judson Studios
Tim Carey and Judson Studios, Kobe, 2017. Fused glass, 40 x 40 inches. Courtesy of Judson Studios. Photo by studio photographer Kyle J. Mickelson

When you're inside the Hall of Crucifixion-Resurrection on the grounds of Forest Lawn Cemetary in Glendale, tilt your head up towards the windows. On a sunny day, inside this mini Gothic cathedral at the top of the cemetery, light streams through jewel-toned panes of glass that evoke a centuries-old European style, but were actually made in 1951 by a long-running L.A. family business.

With over 120 years of history, Judson Studios is integral to the look of Los Angeles. You might not immediately recognize the name, but you've certainly seen their stained glass creations. The dome at the Natural History Museum, the large globe hanging inside Central Library and the windows at the Hollyhock House were all made by Judson's team of craftspeople.

Rose Window, Judson Studios. Forest Lawn Cemetaey
Judson Studios,Rose Window, 1951. Stained glass, 11-footdiameter. Hall of Crucifixion-Resurrection, Forest Lawn–Glendale. Courtesy of Forest Lawn Museum

Judson Studios also has a relationship with Forest Lawn that goes back more than a century. Inside the Freedom Mausoleum, Judson contributed stained glass portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, as well as a depiction of the first Thanksgiving, to Forest Lawn's collection of American history windows. There are also documents indicating that Judson provided windows and ceiling lights in the Great Mausoleum back in 1920. While those specific windows have not been identified, there are also Judson windows from 1979 in a portion of the Great Mausoleum that's, unfortunately, not open to the public. (There are also Judson Studios pieces at Forest Lawn's Hollywood Hills and Covina Hills locations.) "It's been a very long, rich history," says David Judson, president of Judson Studios, of the relationship with Forest Lawn.

Through September 12, Judson Studios is the subject of a retrospective inside Forest Lawn Museum at the Glendale campus. Inside the exhibition, you'll see examples of Judson Studio's work that spans decades as well as artistic styles.

Judson Studios Exhibit at Forest Lawn 2021_1
Courtesy of Forest Lawn Museum
Judson Studios Exhibit at Forest Lawn 2021_2
Courtesy of Forest Lawn Museum

James Fishburne, director of Forest Lawn Museum and curator of "Judson Studios: Stained Glass from Gothic to Street Style" and Judson connected back in 2018. Fishburne thought Forest Lawn would be a good venue to exhibit the company's work. Judson happened to be in the midst of writing a book about the business founded by his great-great-grandfather. The show was originally slated to open in April of 2020, just following the release of the book Judson: Innovations in Stained Glass. The COVID-19 pandemic put the exhibition on hold for a year. "All of the participating artists were okay with that," says Fishburne. "I'm glad that everyone had the patience and commitment to it, and I'm very excited to be open."

Overview of Judson Studios 2021
The cutting room at Judson Studios. Courtesy of Instagram, @judsonstudios
Judson Studios, Detail 2021
Judson Studios. Courtesy of Instagram, @judsonstudios

The oldest stained glass studio in the United States was founded in 1897, just four years after painter and educator William Lees Judson moved to Los Angeles. Williams Lees, who was also the first dean of USC's School of Fine Art, launched the business downtown at Continental Art Glass with three of his seven children, the eldest of whom, Walter Horace, had trained as a stained glass artist. The company would change names multiple times in its first few decades and, eventually, operations moved to a now-historic building in Garvanza that had previously been home to USC's College of Fine Art.

The studio's business grew with the city in which it was founded. "We wanted to build everything that the big cities on the East Coast had, that New York and Boston and all these cities had," says Fishburne. "So, we started building churches and cathedrals and massive homes, and many of these included stained glass or arched glass windows in some capacity."

He adds, "Their timing was great, in opening when they did. The city was expanding almost exponentially."

Judson Studios Ennis House Windows

What was interesting too was that the Judson family's work extended beyond houses of worship and other spaces where stained glass was typically found. Sure, they outfitted plenty of churches in the region, like St. James Episcopal on Wilshire Boulevard and First Baptist in Pasadena, but, David Judson points out, some of the company's early projects included movie palaces that lined Broadway downtown.

In the 1920s, the studio added its glass to two homes that would go on to become local architectural icons. The studio's first project with famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright was Aline Barnsdall's Hollyhock House. "It's an honor to be part of that history of working with Frank Lloyd Wright," says Judson. At the Hollyhock House, Judson Studios made and installed 130 windows and skylights. In 1925, they would work with Wright again, this time on the Ennis House. Inside the exhibition, there's an example of one of the windows for this project, a long, thin window with just a few geometric pieces of blue, yellow and turquoise glass decorating the windowpane.

Judson Studios David Flores Window
David Flores, Muralist Courtesy of Judson Studios and Forest Lawn Museum

In recent years, Judson Studios has expanded both its headquarters and its scope of operations. In addition to their home base  in Garvanza, they also have a facility in South Pasadena where they work on on fused glass projects. They've also developed a reputation for working with artists from outside the stained glass world. The Forest Lawn exhibition includes an eclectic mix of pieces from painter and tattoo artist Shay Bredimus, street artists David Flores and El Mac and multi-disciplinary artist Alice Wang. All this points to the future of stained glass. Fishburne says that, right now, stained glass is going through a renaissance. "Judson is at the cutting edge of that," he says.

"We're starting to see more glass in public places," says Judson, mentioning their recent collaboration with artist Amir Fallah on stained glass sculptures to be installed at the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health Services offices. "To me, this feels like a fresh perspective of how we interact with glass and how glass can be more than just something you see in a church or other religious space," says Judson.

Stained Glass Globe at Central Library LA Judson Studios
Stained Glass Globe at LA Central Library. Courtesy of Instagram, @judsonstudios, @lapubliclibrary

There are some beautiful examples of Judson Studio's glass art inside the museum, and across the cemetery itself, but that's just a fraction of what you might find in the Los Angeles area. Keep your eyes peeled as you travel across town. Maybe you'll notice their glass as you pass the ACE Hotel or explore Hollywood Forever. 

"I just hope that people start to notice stained glass around town," says Judson. "When you start looking for the stained glass in Los Angeles, it's amazing how many kinds of beautiful examples there are sprinkled throughout."