A Look Back in History: Ode To The Folklorist, Lester P. Breininger

First Board of Directors of the American Folklife Institute: Thomas Cawley, Richard Shaner, Robert Walch, Dale Truex, and Lester Breininger. Lobachsville Commons 1974 at Colonial American Cherry Fair.

A now veteran collector of PA Dutch redware, I was among the local Berks County customers who admired the earthenware folk artistry kept alive by Lester P. Breininger and his local apprentices in rural Robesonia. So whenlocal newspaper reporter wrote about the latest auction of the late Breininger legacy on May 25, I realized how important his collection was to the material culture of the local PA Dutch people. Not only the iconic paintings and folk art already sold by Ron Pook at an earlier gallery auction, but additional fraktur birth certificates, et al, and a tall case clock made by Daniel Oyster, an important local clock maker.

The important Breininger lifetime legacy is only one of the folklorist collections influenced by the celebrated Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, who founded the Pennsylvania Folklife Society. The group which operated the PA Dutch Folk Festival at Kutztown was the result of Franklin and Marshall’s College PA Dutch Folklore Center where they published the widely acclaimed Pennsylvania Dutchman newspaper from 1949 to 1952. This academic endeavor run by Doctors: Shoemaker, Don Yoder, and William Frey, influenced a number of area citizens to make a serious study of their own PA Deitsch heritage, which for Lester Breininger entailed the replicating of 18th Century earthen pottery as well as collecting folk art fraktur and local histories and artifacts.

But more than his pride in his PA Deitsch ancestry, Dr. Alfred Shoemaker instilled in Lester, and his fellow academic colleagues to seek museum caliber furniture and artifacts of our PA Deitsch to record our true Americana life story about living in rural America! Thereby, Lester Breininger’s wonderful Legacy was just one of several folklorists who had come under Alfred Shoemaker’s dynamic leadership, recording our PA Dutch Americana folklife culture. Additionally, Shoemaker’s influence extended to historian Robert Bucher, Russell and Florence Baver, and folklorist Clarence Kulp Jr., and Alan G. Keyser, all of which wrote articles for Alfred Shoemaker’s academic periodicals along with historian, Olive Zehner.

Culminating with the exhibits and demonstrations at Shoemaker’s Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Festival held over the Fourth of July at Kutztown, Breininger and these distinguished PA Dutch citizens all left an amazing Legacy, as they recounted the life of Rhinelanders who came to America to impart their human ethnicity and belief in God and Country!


In his lifetime, Lester Breininger, was a personal friend of the Director of the American Folklife Institute, Richard Shaner, who most loyal readers know was a very good friend of Alfred L. Shoemaker who mentored Mr. Shaner. Lester was very proud of being a PA Dutchman and his ethnicity was apparent in every task he undertook, but his pride in God and Country were utmost in his mind.

But before they worked collectively as a whole, adding measurably to the accumulative cultural base of the PA Germans who founded southeastern Pennsylvania, Dick Shaner became the Secretary of the Lehigh County Historical Society in the 1960’s, and Lester became a talented Berks County potter. I think most of you will enjoy the picture I came across, and hopefully bring back fond memories for those in the photo!

Richard L.T. Orth is assistant director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.