‘Light of the Prairie’ airs Feb. 4

Stained glass windows at Blue Cloud Abbey.

Stained glass windows at Blue Cloud Abbey.

By South Dakota Public Broadcasting

South Dakota Public Broadcasting Television explores the state’s artistic history with a new documentary: “Light of the Prairie: South Dakota Stained Glass.” It premieres on Monday, Feb. 4, at 8 p.m.

The one-hour SDPB Television production travels throughout the state to look at a beautiful and often underappreciated aspect of South Dakota’s history. The documentary touches on the history and culture of stained glass windows with expert and Humanities Scholar Dr. Barbara Johnson of Aberdeen.

Many communities across the state have used these stained glass windows to tell their stories – their connection to God, the homestead experience or life on the Great Plains. Windows can be found in private homes, churches, courthouse, schools, and even in barns.

The production is divided into three parts.

The History of Stained Glass on the Great Plains

Stained glass windows originally were developed in the Middle East. Early stained glass artists learned to use metals like gold, cobalt, copper and others to create vibrant colors in glass. Centuries later, settlers who immigrated to the Great Plains brought their stained glass traditions with them. In South Dakota, these colorful windows often tell the same stories as windows found in Europe and the Middle East about religion, art and memories.

The Buildings 

Churches are most commonly associated with stained glass. Some windows depict biblical figures or stories and some are merely decorative. But not all stained glass is connected to religious communities. Throughout South Dakota there are buildings where stained glass tells stories of our state, individual communities, prominent families, epic events, or sometimes mystical people and places. The State Capitol building is home to many beautiful windows, but the art form is found across the state in schools, courthouses and homes.

The Present and Future

Many of the stained glass windows found across the state are showing the ravages of time. The restoration of a stained glass window is expensive and time consuming, but those who love and respect these beautiful pieces of history are finding ways to restore them.  Creating stained glass remains a living art form, and many of today’s artists continue to carry on the storytelling tradition in their contemporary creations. Technology is allowing today’s craftsmen to create more contemporary designs with vivid color choices.

“Light of the Prairie” is produced with the support of the South Dakota Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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