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A Look Back in History In 19th Century, few took time to photograph folklife (Part 2)

Part 2 of three-part series

By Richard L.T. Orth, Columnist

Thursday, January 4, 2018

When photography was invented in the 19th Century, few photographers took the time to photograph actual folklife of people living in the area except for Winslow Fegley and Amandus Moyer who lived near Lobachsville.

Take for instance in the spring of the year, when the weather finally warms especially after these past couple brutal winters, and the rainy season refreshes the dormant forests. Some country folk eagerly await the hunting of wild, edible delicacy mushrooms, known as morel.

This tradition lost in antiquity is an activity still practiced by few that challenges the cunning qualities of local kin, since the fungus is not easily located (try old orchard grounds!). Even fewer still take pride in home-butchering as once was commonplace with large farm families, many more, however, still prepare age-old recipes for meat delicacies that commercial companies cannot match.

Then in the fall of the year, the produce from the fields and domestic products of the home are still placed in competition at the Oley Valley Community Fair, consistently in September, where creative expression and originality are rewarded with simple ribbons yet constitute a great pride among the awardees.

Oley, as most small towns, take for example my hometown of Fleetwood’s expansive growth, cannot ultimately hold off infiltration of some megalopolis families to the desired peace and seclusion that the Valley offers. Thereby, the unanimity of the cultural base has and is slowly changing.

These outsiders, called “Auslanders,” by the local PA Dutch are mostly affluent families whose material wealth and lifestyle has afforded them Historic homes with sizable plots of land or development housing, however, there is little in common with the country folk; although there is a certain respect by most Auslanders for the natives and vice versa after perhaps an initial wary eye. Even though their material-oriented wealth has afforded them a secluded farm in the valley that may negate their cultural ability to identify with the natives, the locals continue their simpler ways of life without incident or change.

Although Winslow was a merchant in Reading, his native village of Hereford beckoned him to make numerous jaunts across the Oley Valley to see his village friends. It is by no means strange that he would eventually make the acquaintance of Amandus Moyer at Lobachsville (on route to Hereford) and develop a friendship with this fellow photographer.

Winslow was by far the more accomplished of the two photographers and had his work published in various newspapers. His crowning achievement was a photographic study of old gristmills in Pennsylvania, published by the Pennsylvania German Society in 1930. However, being a clever Dutchman, Amandus innovated and engaged in trick photography, as well as candid. Then, too, Amandus had a slight edge on Winslow, since he resided in the rural setting and had a better chance to record the daily life.

It must have been quite a challenge for these two men to compete with each other in this new form of art. The winner, of course all those appreciative, as you and I, for surviving in a new century, a few hundred of photographs taken between the two.

Several years ago, the Winslow Fegley collection was received by the Schwenkfelder Library at Pennsburg, near to his beloved Hereford. The Amandus Moyer collection, however, was divided by his children with one large shoe-box of glass negatives left behind at the homestead that was sold some years later. Luckily for posterity, Webster Reinert, an inquisitive native, assisted the new owners of the Moyer farm in cleaning and discovered the neglected plates. Recognizing that the negatives were of local scenes, he asked the new owners for said plates and probably saved them from being discarded.

In the Reinert assortment, there were about a hundred glimpses of yesterday in the Oley Valley taken by Amandus Moyer.