August 24, 2017

A 12th Century Art Form Leaps Into the 21st Century

[Ed: Adapted from an article I wrote for KCET's Artbound, published 8/21/2017]

Over the last four and a half years—from first visiting their home in Garvanza to attending glass-cutting and -painting demonstrations at The Getty and Mountain View Mausoleum—I've spent a lot of time chasing down Judson Studios.

And as a result, I've found myself in more ecclesiastical and funerary settings than I ever thought I would, gazing up at the sunlight pouring in through those colored glass panels, craning my neck to see whether or not they bore the signature of Judson Studios.

I've become somewhat of a connoisseur of the studio's work, at least locally.

So it was fitting that my first article for KCET's Artbound (after having contributed stories to SoCal Wanderer for over two years now) would be about the latest goings-on at Judson Studios.

Since I took a lot of interesting new photos that haven't seen the light of day yet, here's an adaptation of the article that ran over on KCET's website.

Just two years ago, Judson Studios revolutionized both its own business and the entire industry of architectural glass. The studio now not only creates works of art using the segmented, colored glass so commonly found in ecclesiastical settings, but also renders innovations in fused glass.

As a result, the heirloom studio has found itself propelled out of the Middle Ages and into the future of art and architectural glass.

The landmark status of their Garvanza studio, though, proved too restrictive for any real innovation.

So, Judson's new, second location opened up across the Arroyo Seco, less than a half-mile down York Boulevard in South Pasadena.

Also in need of a major equipment upgrade, kilns were custom-built and installed.

Fusing glass turns out to be pretty different from the technique from the Middle Ages that the studio's artisans had been practicing for over a century.

For the last 900 years or so, a stained glass artisan would cut pieces of colored glass into shapes and then join them together with a lead-based material called "came," which acts as a "seam" between each of the segments. He'd use a brush to paint any pattern or figures—like faces, animals, flowers, crosses, etc. —on the glass.

When the glass is fused, however, patterns are created by placing glass that's been broken into tiny fragments (called “frit”) under high heat in a kiln.

While some accents may be painted, generally the bulk of the design results from the strategic arrangement of the different pieces in various sizes and colors, which all "melt" together.

It's been a challenge because it's all about churning out a precise result—whichever color gradients and textures they desire—from a somewhat imprecise science. And since different chemicals create different colors in the glass, and those chemicals react in predictable ways when mixed together, the studio workers must be equal parts artist and alchemist.

After years of experimenting, they’ve learned how to manipulate the factors of time, temperature, and chemical composition to create a piece of fired glass that looks like, for example, the night sky, while strategic layering may create the three-dimensional appearance of a bas-relief in glass.

The result? Colors that vibrate and shimmer as no oil on canvas ever could.

From a distance, or with just a passing glance, some of the new work that’s coming out of Judson Studios now may not actually look all that different from the traditional, painted stained glass projects that it has built its reputation on.

But when it comes to firing and fusing, the reality is that no other workshop is currently doing what Judson Studios is right now.

The progress that the studio has made in developing its fused glass techniques has been so innovative that it’s attracted the attention of a number of contemporary and even street artists—including those who have never worked in this particular medium before—to both fabricate and collaborate on new glass projects.

One such artist is David Flores, whose California-inspired, streetwise visual style—as evident in his murals, paintings, and sculptures, as well as in his commercial art—could only be described until now as  “stained glass” without the glass.

And with only six weeks to complete it from the moment of its conception, Flores—along with eight mastercraft artisans from Judson Studios—debuted his seven-by-three-foot, 300-pound panel of stained and fused glass, called “The Muralist.”

I'm interested to see what Judson Studios comes up with in terms of public art and how its artisans will continue to turn everything we thought we knew about art glass on its head.

And while their latest commissions have taken them far and wide outside of Southern California—to places like Kansas—I look forward to discovering more of their historic and new fabrications and installations in my travels.

To read the full article on, click here.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Judson's Historic Glass Studio
Photo Essay: Mountain View Mausoleum, Day into Night

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