A Look Back in History: Tribute to the late folklorist & potter, Lester P. Breininger

Lester Breininger a well-liked school teacher is seen here with a bunch of youngsters at Colonial Americana Cherry Fair held at the 1753 Keimstead.
Lester Breininger a well-liked school teacher is seen here with a bunch of youngsters at Colonial Americana Cherry Fair held at the 1753 Keimstead. Submitted photo

A veteran collector of PA Dutch redware, I was among many Berks County customers who admired the earthenware folk artistry kept alive by Lester Breininger and his apprentices in rural Robesonia. In revisiting my Lester file, I came across an old newspaper clipping of Ron Devlin’s article from the Reading Eagle where he wrote about the amazing Americana collection the late Breininger and subsequent auction and talking of Lester’s legacy. It made me realize once again 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 his additional fraktur birth certificates, etc., after his passing and a tall case clock made by Daniel Oyster, an important area clockmaker.

The important Breininger lifetime legacy is an outstanding one and an example of several folklorist collections influenced by the celebrated Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, who founded the Pennsylvania Folklife Society. His 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. One which Lester Breininger entailed with the replicating of 18th Century earthen pottery and as a collector of folk art fraktur, local histories, and artifacts.

But more than this pride in his PA Deitsch ancestry, Dr. Alfred Shoemaker instilled in Lester, and other fellow academic colleagues to seek museum caliber furniture and pieces of our PA Deitsch in recording our true Americana life story about living in rural America! Thereby, Lester Breininger’s wonderful legacy written about by Devlin was just one of several folklorists who had come under Alfred Shoemaker’s dynamic leadership, and Lester recorded our PA Dutch Americana folklife culture and featured in Shoemaker’s publications as well as many others. Additionally, Shoemaker’s influence extended to other notable historians as Robert Bucher, Russell and Florence Baver, Olive Zehner, and folklorists Richard Shaner, Clarence Kulp Jr and Alan G. Keyser, all of which wrote articles for Alfred Shoemaker’s academic periodicals.

Culminating with the exhibits and demonstrations at Shoemaker’s Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Festival always 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. Lester Breininger also became a close 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. Dick and Lester would be part of the American Folklife Society board in 1972, and Lester was always very proud of being a PA Dutchman, and his ethnicity was apparent in every task he undertook but utmost in his mind was his belief and pride in God and Country.

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