Local churches and synagogues bask in the glow of gorgeous stained glass windows—many of them courtesy of a passionate Valley artisan.
Written byHadley Hall Meares
HOLY VISIONS It took Earl three months to refurbish the stained glass windows at Community Church at Holliston in Pasadena. “I really love the work I do on churches because it lasts. Plus, I know that people are there every Sunday seeing the light come in the windows. If a window is broken they notice it,” he says.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY SHANE O’DONNELL
Earl Beard may be well into middle age, but he’s got the energy of a teenager. The effervescent glass artist practically dances through his cluttered home studio in Van Nuys. The radio plays hits from the 70s while his longtime partner and the owner of Flash Glass Art, Joyce Dudknick, works on a small Arts and Crafts-style window. Earl picks up beautiful bowls, caresses sculptures, tinkles wind chimes, brushes dirt off colorful bricks and points to details in windows that are works in progress. All these objects are Flash Glass creations, made of every kind of glass under the sun. “Your imagination is the only limit. I have people say, ‘Can you do that? Can you do this?’ and I say,” he pauses dramatically, “yes.”
“What can you imagine? What do you want to do next? There’s no end to what you can do. It’s just a matter of doing it.”
Earl’s love affair with the medium began when he was still a teenager. He joined the Navy, and aware that he would have many long, tedious hours on a ship in the middle of the sea, thought, “I need a hobby.” So the California native bought a book called How to Make Stained Glass. By the time his tour of the Far East was over, he had made his first glass creation, a window that said “Mother.”
IN THE ACT Earl uses a custom-made chisel and hammer as his primary tools to refurbish stained glass. “Some people might call this a dying art,” he surmises. “There just aren’t a lot of people who do this by hand.”
After graduating from college, he worked briefly as a studio camera operator before turning to glasswork full time. “How many jobs do you get to have where you’re having fun? Or helping people?” Earl asks. “Whatever it takes, it’s a matter of making things better.” A perpetual student, Earl can do it all—reinforce, restore, paint and create stained glass windows, mix glass, mold glass, and blow glass. “We’ve done big jobs, we’ve done little jobs,” he says. From creating intricate jewelry to restoring stained glass windows in a church, while perched on a 70-foot-high scaffold, Earl looks at it all as a grand and exciting experiment.
“What can you imagine? What do you want to do next?” Earl asks. “There’s no end to what you can do. It’s just a matter of doing it.”
One of his favorite projects was restoring and refurbishing the exquisite antique blown glass windows at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village. “The trickiest part is making the glass panels fit correctly. Each window has to be customized to fit in the frame, and no two windows are the same exact size,” he explains.
For the legendary art deco Oviatt Building in downtown Los Angeles, Earl restored the iconic marquee. He also recreated the molded crystal panels in the elevators, which had broken. To match the original panels, designed by artist René Lalique, Earl made his own intricate wax molds, since the originals had been lost.
Flash Glass also creates custom glasswork for clients—ranging from homeowners to art collectors—all over Southern California. To celebrate the retirement of a former pilot of Air Force One, Earl was commissioned to make a custom window featuring the famous airplane and the Presidential Seal. “The guy had served as pilot for three terms—12 years in all—and someone commissioned the piece as a gift to him,” Earl recalls. The artisan has also been hired to create windows featuring mermaids, dragons, butterflies and even a marathon runner.
Today this perpetual student is also a master teacher, introducing locals to the art and fun of glasswork. Earl teaches classes on blowing glass, creating stained glass and even bead making, at both his home studio as well as the McGroarty Arts Center in Sunland-Tujunga. After 30 wonderful years in the business, Earl, a sprightly man who literally whistles while he works, doesn’t see himself quitting anytime soon. “If I was working with CBS still, I’d be retired or out of it, one way or another,” Earl says. But instead he keeps “learning more, teaching more and doing better.” Earl gives a wry smile as the sun streams through a myriad of hues from a stained glass window, onto his pleasant face. “I don’t see me stopping.”