Barbara Johnson's doctorate is in literature, but an encounter with stained glass windows brought her to research South Dakota stained glass art.
The South Dakota Humanities Council speaker from Aberdeen gave Belle Fourche High School students a preview of her work that will be part of a South Dakota Public Broadcasting special scheduled to air Sunday, March 24.
She was kept busy through the whole day last Wednesday in arts classes discussing how stained glass is made, how important it is in South Dakota and Belle Fourche religious art and culture - and highlighted windows at the local St. James Episcopal Church and St. Paul Catholic Church.
Johnson said stained glass isn't just found in churches.
One "lifer" in the South Dakota penitentiary in Pierre is an experienced stained glass worker who has added his art to prison life: "Watch the video."
Wall Drug is another unexpected place to find stained glass, she said. "Some of it is quite actually interesting."
Her message to the high school art students is, "You need to think about the stories the artist is trying to tell you."
Color is one of the clues, she said.
The day with high school art classes isn't Johnson's first trip to Belle Fourche.
"I was here about six months ago and talked at the Episcopal Church," she said. Her talk there included explanation of what is apparently the oldest stained glass art in Belle Fourche at the historic church.
She said that as stained glass and development of the state came in the era of 1880 to 1910, the Belle Fourche church has some of the older examples in the state.
St. Paul's Catholic Church in Belle Fourche has stained glass from another era, she said. "You can see the influence of modern art."
One of the BFHS students told Johnson about another set of windows that she hadn't known about. Isaac Otterman described the windows at St. James Lutheran Church.