Searing flames. Tiny pieces of brilliantly colored glass. Hot molten lead cames. These are the same tools of the trade the Judson Studios have used in Los Angeles since 1897 to make stained-glass windows.
Judson Studios specializes in an old-fashioned craft that hasn't changed much since the Middle Ages within a city known for its obsession with the new. And it's helmed by fourth- and fifth-generation Judsons, which means it's about as close to a family-run trade guild as you get in Los Angeles. Even William Morris (the 19th-century British Arts and Crafts guru, not the talent agent) would have felt at home in its workshop. The rambling, eclectic Craftsman building in the Garvanza section of Highland Park is one of those tucked-away Los Angeles treasures. It helps tell the story of the Arroyo Seco's bohemian creativity; a significant art school, a legendary crafts guild and Judson Studios have all flourished on its grounds over the last hundred-plus years. In addition to the glass facility, the building houses an art gallery and the remarkable legacy of the place can be experienced and appreciated on the public tours offered at the studio.
Judson Studios has always straddled the secular and sacred. Some of the most complicated adornments in Los Angeles' venerated houses of worship and private residences, including elements of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and Frank Lloyd Wright's Barnsdall and Ennis homes, originate from Highland Park. (But Judson Studios' work isn't confined to California.) Over the decades, styles have reflected prevailing tastes, from the Gothic Revival craze in the 1920s to 1970s geometric abstraction. The process still starts with pen and paper, and computers are used mostly for tweaking design details before fabrication. Yet given the life cycles of these materials and the fragile buildings they adorn, restoration accounts for about half the atelier's work.