March 15, 2013

Photo Essay: Judson's Historic Glass Studio

Los Angeles wasn't always the big sprawling metropolis it is now.

It wasn't always all "Los Angeles." (And it isn't even now - places like West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica aren't neighborhoods, they're separate municipalities.)

In the late 1800s, there was a neighboring village called Garvanza - named after the abundant garbanzo bean (aka the chickpea) - which ran along the Arroyo Seco, and spawned a community of artists and crafters. (Note: not just craftsmen, but craftswomen too.) In the days of Charles Lummis, in the now-neighborhood of Highland Park which was gobbled up by LA, Garvanza takes the credit for giving birth to the Arts & Crafts movement that spread into Pasadena and throughout Southern California.

At the heart of this movement is Judson Studios. Established in 1897, it is the oldest family-run art glass company in the U.S., housed in a historic building that was first built for the USC College of Fine Arts, and originally housed many of its students, artists who brought their art to the very facade of their home. Their handiwork is visible above doorways and underfoot, with hand-laid brick walkways.

Once USC centralized their campus, their school had already burned down once and been rebuilt...

...and had an annex added..., seizing an opportunity to lead the Arroyo Craftsmen in a real movement...

...William Judson - painter, professor, school dean, Brit, and Methodist - moved in, and set up shop as a glass studio.

Preferring architectural glassworks over, say, ornamental blown glass...

...Judson Studios is best-known for its stained glass windows and domes.

Their handiwork is visible in various Frank Lloyd Wright projects including Hollyhock House and the Ennis House...

...and is no longer visible at the Tropicana casino in Vegas, whose domed ceiling has since been removed and stored.

Their work is also showcased at numerous religious institutions - churches, cathedrals, mausoleums, etc. - throughout the world.

It all happens in this tiny studio space, with just a handful of craftsmen...

...employing essentially the same techniques that were used in the 12th century.

Their one big modern invention is the glass cutter - essentially, a heavy duty X-acto knife that scores the glass into whatever sizes and shapes are needed.

Much of the glass used in their projects is housed internally...

...and painstakingly catalogued...

...and the final pieces that they like but were rejected for one reason or another get showcased in the windows for their own pleasure.

Glass faces stare up from backlit tables, floating in fragments, waiting to be bound by lead.

They are a product of fastidious tracing of an approved design on carbon paper... that the final result will be to exact specifications.

Lead is still used to piece together the various glass fragments, despite its poisonous nature and availability of alternative cames, because of its ease of use and malleability.

That being said, when a stained glass window starts to fall apart, it's usually because the soft lead came gave way and put too much pressure on the glass. The glass itself can last hundreds of years.

Judson Studios takes on a number of restoration projects, some more difficult than rebuilding from scratch...

...but for its new projects, it does nearly everything, soup to nuts, inhouse, from firing up the kiln... assembling the glass and cementing / sealing the flanges to be watertight... painting.

Although some of the glass is used in its natural color state, many designs (particularly in liturgical and sacred settings) depict people, nature, and other figures that must be illustrated.

An enamel paint is used and, because the paint is essentially made of glass itself, it fuses to the glass, creating a seamless design...

...whether it's of sandaled feet...

...or upturned gazes.

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