SMITHSONIANMAG.COM |
April 30, 2021, 9:32 a.m.

For more than a century, Judson Studios in Los Angeles has been creating striking artworks made of stained glass. Founded in 1897, the business, which holds the title of the oldest family-run stained glass studio in the United States, is responsible for producing a wealth of recognizable glass pieces found throughout the country and world.

Now, nearly 125 years since its founding, Judson Studios is teaming up with another century-old California institution, the Forest Lawn Museum in nearby Glendale, to present a one-of-a-kind exhibition that focuses on the studio’s colorful history.

Titled “Judson Studios: Stained Glass from Gothic to Street Style,” the show dives into the studio’s extensive archives and features nearly 100 original stained glass artworks, drawings, watercolors and archival photographs, as well as a number of collaborations with contemporary artists using traditional stained glass methods. Additionally, many of the pieces will be on display to the public for the first time ever. The exhibit follows on the heels of a new book focused on the studio’s history and projects called Judson: Innovation in Stained Glass, co-authored by the studio’s president David Judson and L.A.-based writer Steffie Nelson.

To truly understand Judson Studios’ impact on the stained glass world, one must first take a look at its history. At the age of 51, painter William Lees Judson, suffering from poor health, moved his family from Chicago to Los Angeles in search of fresh air and quickly immersed himself in the city’s burgeoning art scene, serving as dean of the University of Southern California’s College of Fine Arts as well as one of the co-founders of the Arroyo Guild of Fellow Craftsmen. Becoming a glass artist was never in his game plan, especially so late in his career, but Judson and his three sons founded Judson Studios in 1897. Before long the studio had built a reputation for its refined craftsmanship and high-quality glass pieces.

inside studio
Founded in Los Angeles 1897, Judson Studios is the oldest family-run, stained-glass studio in the United States.

(Courtesy Judson Studios)

“He struggled as an artist, especially after his wife died in childbirth and he was left to raise seven children on his own,” says David Judson, the studio’s current president and a fifth-generation descendant of the founder. “He thought that creating a stained glass studio would be a way for him to continue being involved in the creative arts community, while also having the stability of a business.”

Soon glass designs by the studio began popping up inside churches and commercial buildings throughout the greater Los Angeles area, including the glass rotunda inside the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and All Saints Church in Pasadena, where Judson Studios’ pieces are displayed alongside windows produced by fellow well-known glass studio, Tiffany. Judson Studios wasn’t alone in making stained glass a common sight in cathedrals and other buildings across the United States. Other glassmaking studios, such as John LaFarge in New York City and Columbia Stained