Angelic presence along the freeway
By Nick Grudin, Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, August 17, 2002
GLENDALE -- Tucked away in a west Glendale warehouse, Hakob Jambazian stepped off a ladder, wiped sweat from his forehead and admired his work -- two 13-foot-long flying angels delicately engraved across five plates of glass.
Jambazian is creating 16 of the angels for the new Our Lady of Angels Cathedral, which will be dedicated on Labor Day. The task of engraving a 240-foot set of windows for the cathedral is all-absorbing.
"When I am here working, I am happy; these angels are my life," said Jambazian, who works for Judson Studios of Los Angeles.
For Jambazian, 51, the project is the culmination of 25 years of work in glass art, a career that began in a glass factory in Armenia after he earned a master's degree in stained glass production and design from the University of St. Petersberg in Russia.
Although much of his recent work has been restoring pieces by some of history's most notable stained glass artists, Jambazian is progressive in his own creations.
"Artists must always think and speak in a new language," he said in deliberate English, citing Pablo Picasso as an example of the groundbreaking creativity that exemplifies great artistry.
The Glendale warehouse is a far cry from Jambazian's upbringing in the communist Armenian Soviet Republic.
Jambazian and his five siblings grew up poor there; both his parents worked, his father in construction and his mother as a teacher. Despite hardships, all six children earned college degrees. And Jambazian developed a prestigious artistic portfolio once he left Armenia, working in Germany and Russia and, for the past six years, in the United States.
When Jambazian's cathedral commission is complete, 16 frosty flying angels will float about 150 feet above the Hollywood Freeway on the northern edge of the cathedral's 2 1/2-acre plaza.
On Thursday, wearing jeans and holding a gas mask that protects him from glass particles produced by his work, the soft-spoken artist shuffled through sketches and photographs of human hands and geometrical calculations in scrawled pencil.
"This is my first monumental engraving," he said, dwarfed by one of his nearly finished angels, which seemed to levitate behind him.
Another artist initially was signed to create the work, but that fell through at the last minute, according to the Judson Studios owner Walter Judson, who was on the cathedral's art selection committee.
"One day, I got a call that the cardinal had selected us to do the work. ... It was an exciting thing," Judson said.
Despite the prestige and money from the $200,000 cathedral commission, Jambazian is strictly focused on his work.
Each of the flying angels is adorned with intricately engraved feathers, and Jambazian is acutely aware of the direction of each of the thousands of strokes used to shade the graceful figures. Each angel takes him 21 full days to complete.
"I enjoy each detail of the work," Jambazian said.
He has five angels done, and 11 to go, which means that barring any bumps in the road, he will be done in July 2003, long after the dedication of the cathedral.
Judson Studios was also commissioned to stain glass windows in the former St. Vibiana's Cathedral and place them in the crypt of the new cathedral. On a separate plate of glass, next to the angel engravings, Judson Studios has etched names of donors to the $163 million cathedral.
The Rev. Kathie Clark of the Prince of Peace Episcopal Church in Woodland Hills observed Jambazian work during a recent sabbatical, and was impressed not only by his skill, but by the spirituality with which he imbues the glass.
"The world is filled with beautiful artists and great craftsmen, but very few make art that speaks to you profoundly; his work does. ... The breadth of his skill is incredible. In a lot of our churches we don't have the art that you find in Europe. I would like to see Jambazian's art used more," Clark said.
Jambazian said glass is particularly conducive to spiritual artwork.
"Without glass, we don't have light," he said. "It allows us to touch the cosmos."
An example of Jambazian's wide-ranging talents is restoration work he did for a Hans Holbein stained glass exhibit at the Getty Museum in 2000; Holbein is a Renaissance master who took stained glass to new heights, according to the Getty.
In addition to their artistic relevance, Jambazian's glass angels -- which are sand-ground onto thick clear glass with electric engraving tools called dremels -- serve a very practical purpose.
The double-paned windows are designed as a soundwall to buffer the cathedral's plaza from the freeway's traffic noise. The angels are visible from the freeway and from within the plaza, and Jambazian had to account for both very different vantage points in his design.
Looking at the angels from within the plaza, they float parallel above the daily traffic rush in the background.
It is an intentional effect, said Los Angeles Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg.
"We deliberately planned the cathedral next to the 101 (freeway), like many of the older churches of Europe were built next to the river thoroughfares. The freeways are the lifeblood of L.A.," Tamberg said.
Those stuck in traffic below can look up at Jambazian's angels in grateful relief.
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