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Sunday, Aug 7, 2022

Glass Innovator

Jane Skeeter has found a buyer for her pioneering architectural and decorative glass business, UltraGlas. 

She is selling her equipment and intellectual property to Judson Studios, a Los Angeles stained-glass company for an undisclosed price. Her building at 9200 Gazette Ave. in Chatsworth will sell to a separate buyer. 

Skeeter called Judson the ideal buyer for her business and the company she wanted to take over the legacy of UltraGlas. 

“This will really broaden their scope and their offerings,” she said. “It will also add to their capabilities. They will be able to utilize some of our processes to actually enhance theirs.” 

David Judson, the fifth-generation family member to run the business, said the company was looking to diversify and scale up and Skeeter had some equipment that allows for that. The kilns at UltraGlas are larger than the ones at Judson and there is a lamination machine that will allow the studio to laminate glass for architectural projects. 

“It is one of just a few of these (machines) in the country that I know of,” Judson said. “That was very intriguing for us.”

Also of interest to the acquiring company was the ability to continue to work with the clients that Skeeter has attracted over the years, he added. 

Material pioneer

Skeeter credits UltraGlas with bringing molded and cast glass to the U.S. market in the 1980s. She also developed ways of permanently coloring glass that were new to the glazing industry. 

One of her personality traits that has made her successful, she said, was her ability to not take no for an answer. 

“I am like a bull with a target,” Skeeter said. “If you tell me I cannot do it, I want to overcome the challenges.” 

Rob Brennan, of Architectural Annex, a Laguna Beach installer of glass and other embellishments, said that over the 25 years he has worked with Skeeter they have done some complex projects together. 

“Jane would never say no,” Brennan said. “Even though we didn’t know how to do it, we could figure it out. Jane would always accept a challenge.” 

Shortly after introducing molded glass, she was told that she couldn’t temper it, and then found a way to do just that. Also, Skeeter said she found a way to permanently color glass using materials from outside the industry to do it and make the glass opaque or translucent.  

The permanent coloring was done to improve the tile offerings from UltraGlas, Skeeter said. 

One thing she loves about the industry is the ability to be come up with innovative ways to make product, Skeeter continued. 

That includes in how UltraGlas makes its molds and even the use of natural gas over electricity to power the kilns, she said. 

“We have developed a lot of intellectual property and knowledge just figuring things out,” Skeeter added.

Some of the IP that Judson acquired from Skeeter and UltraGlas are proprietary methods for how she fires up and cools down the kilns, Judson said. 

“She has some layout processes that are on the design side that allow us, for example, to sandblast and carve the glass that are interesting techniques that we are also acquiring,” he added. 

Valley grown

Skeeter grew up in the west San Fernando Valley in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

 She always liked using her hands. She started by doing the hair of her friend’s mothers and later took up sewing and dress making. Skeeter started her own business designing and making fine clothing. Later, she had a restoration business for the Porsche 356.

“I did the interiors and my partner did the engines and body work,” Skeeter said.

She got into glass as a hobby at first, starting with stained glass. Gradually she gave up on the other businesses and focused exclusively on glass. She had to decide whether she wanted to be an artist or to build a company, she said. 

“I chose the latter because of the entrepreneurial outlook that I have, but also because some day I knew I would be able to sell it after doing projects,” she explained.

Skeeter Studios was started nearly 50 years ago, and the name was changed to UltraGlas in 1987 as she transitioned away from stained glass because it was labor intensive, wasn’t repeatable and wasn’t durable. She introduced molded and cast glass to the U.S. glazing market in the 1980s because it was scalable. 

“We could ship it all over the world,” she said. “For me, it was a financial benefit. We had a lot of competitive advantages which now they (Judson) will be able to have.”

With UItraGlas’s lamination machine, Judson Studios will now be able to take stained glass and put it between two pieces of glass so that it is secure as a single unit, Skeeter continued. 

After all, there is a lot of maintenance on stained glass with degenerating lead and pieces of glass that get broken, she said. “This will make a unit that is very secure and will last indefinitely,” she added. 

Favorite projects

Ask Skeeter what her favorite projects have been over her career and she can name several. 

There was the Jaber Al Ahmed Al Jabar Al Sabah Hospital in Kuwait for which UltraGlas produced 5,000 teal and translucent white glass panels to cover the exterior. 

There was the 250-foot wall of glass made to look like abstract molten lava behind an airline check-in counter at Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. When Skeeter asked the agents how they liked the glass mural, they told her they hated it, she said. 

“They said it made them feel very hot. To me that’s a success,” Skeeter said. “Because that is what we were trying to convey with this molten hot lava.”

Other favorites include the back wall of glass in the lobby area of Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel in Waikiki and the Quill bar at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., which glows from the inside. 

“It is a very sensuous bar,” Skeeter said. “You sit there and can’t help but want to touch it. It invites touch.” 

“It turned out spectacular,” said Brennan, the installer. “I think both of us were proud of that installation.” 

Nonprofit work

Retirement for Skeeter does not mean

 stepping away from glass. She will continue to consult with Judson Studios as well as with other glass companies. 

“I know that Jane will help us through the transition, and we look forward to seeing what happens,” Judson said. 

In the meantime, Skeeter said she will spend time with her husband and her grandchildren who range in age from 16 to 25 years old. 

She will also continue her volunteer work, primarily with the Boys and Girls Club of the West Valley, Valley Economic Alliance, and Valley Industry and Commerce Association. 

Marty Cooper, founder and president of Cooper Communications Inc., a public relations firm in Encino, is, along with Skeeter, the longest serving board member for the club. He serves as chairman emeritus. 

“She has affected great introductions for us to West Valley business leaders and she is the type of person you want to sit on the board with,” he said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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