Walter Judson, 61; Ran Family's Business of Making Stained Glass

Times Staff Writer

Walter Judson, a fourth-generation stained-glass maker whose family-owned business, Judson Studios, created decorative windows for cathedrals, casinos and shopping malls, died Jan. 5 of a heart attack at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. He was 61.

Judson took over the family business in 1975 in a direct succession that began with his great grandfather, William Lees Judson, in 1897.

During Walter Judson's time as president, the studio designed stained-glass windows for commercial buildings, including the South Coast Plaza shopping mall in Costa Mesa and the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. But most of the studio's business has been ecclesiastical, including windows for St. James Episcopal Church in Los Angeles in the 1920s, St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego in the '50s and Valley Beth Shalom synagogue in Encino in the '90s.

Last year, the newly opened Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles installed a glass panel etched with angels that had been made by Judson Studios.

"Walter Judson was a truly artistic man who was very knowledgeable of the teachings of the Vatican II Council and how the arts could be expressive of those teachings," Father Richard Vosko, the liturgical designer for the cathedral, told The Times last week.

Born in Pasadena and graduated from USC, Judson planned to be a foreign service officer, but his spiritual nature and his love for religious art led him to change his mind. He joined his father, Horace, in the family business in his 20s.

Judson never claimed to be a craftsman. "I'm no good with my hands," he told a Times reporter in 1985. But, he said, like his ancestors, he was "a strong-willed Judson with a total dedication to stained glass."

As president of the company, Judson spent most of his time meeting with clients, researching the religious iconography that suited each window commission and helping the studio artists translate his ideas into finished works. His role in the company grew out of his particular skills.

"My father was a devout Catholic and very diplomatic," Judson's son David said last week. "He knew about saints the rest of us never even heard of. We have lost a major resource for our business."

He often wore a natty bow tie with his crisply pressed shirts, giving him the air of a stylish college professor, but friends said he wasn't the "buttoned-up" type. Every two years, he led a "cathedral and pub" tour through Britain to view the stained-glass windows in prominent churches -- and then stop for a pint.

"The pubs were for dinners and such," said Anna Howard. She and her husband, Tom, accompanied Judson on three of his excursions.

"Walter was very knowledgeable about glass, but he didn't lecture us," Anna Howard said. "He was easy and relaxed about everything."

Judson didn't advertise the tours. The Howards happened to find out about them because Tom Howard was on the stained-glass committee for their church, First Presbyterian Church of Granada Hills, where Judson Studios was hired to produce eight windows in the early 1990s.

For each tour, Judson arranged visits to artists' studios and glassmaking factories, as well as conversations with glass conservators at cathedrals from Winchester to Salisbury.

"He knew all the people at the churches and cathedrals," said Anna Howard. "You could tell how much they respected him."

During his years leading the business, David Judson said, "my father's vision was to go back to the original concept of the studios. He wanted to preserve the craftsman approach, offering interior design and mosaic work along with stained glass."

As president, Judson expanded the company's range to include vestments, mosaics, candles and holders, among other religious furnishings. There are now about 20 artists and craftsmen on the staff.

For most of its years, the Judson family business has been housed in a landmark building in Highland Park that first served as USC's art school. William Lees Judson was the art school's first dean. At the time, his stained glass studio was on Mott Alley in downtown Los Angeles. When the art school relocated to USC's main campus in 1920, Judson moved his business from Mott Alley to the Highland Park location.

Walter Judson had several projects in the works when he died. He recently completed designs for stained-glass windows at Holy Redeemer Church, a Catholic church in Montrose, Calif., where he and his wife, Karen, founded a Bible study group some years ago.

Judson had returned from a glass-buying trip to Poland a few weeks before his unexpected death.

Judson is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter and eight grandchildren, as well as a brother and a sister.

Contributions in his name can be made to the Walter Judson Memorial Fund, Holy Redeemer Church, 2411 Montrose Ave., Montrose, CA 91020.

Judson's funeral Mass will be said by Cardinal Roger Mahony on Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St. His ashes will be buried in a niche in the cathedral.

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