Bak­ing bread with the fa­ther of the Amer­i­can Folk­life move­ment: An in­ter­view with Richard ‘Dick’ Shaner, my men­tor

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - OPINION - Richard L.T. Orth A Look Back In His­tory

So­ci­o­log­i­cally speak­ing, the newer folk­life stud­ies move­ment in the 1950’s was a broader and more so­phis­ti­cated ap­proach to re­search­ing hu­man be­hav­ior, striv­ing to un­der­stand and record the depth of a na­tion’s cul­tural com­plex­ity. Thereby, this be­came the ob­jec­tive of earnest folk­life re­searchers like Dr. Al­fred L. Shoe­maker, as op­posed to the clas­si­cal folk­lorists of the past. Shoe­maker started the first Depart­ment of Amer­i­can Folk­lore at Franklin and Mar­shall Col­lege in Lan­caster County when his time with World War II was over as a Pris­oner of War, and is con­sid­ered the Founder of the Amer­i­can Folk­life Move­ment.

The Amer­i­can Folk­life In­sti­tute lo­cated in Kutz­town, PA be­came the idea of Richard H. Shaner, only af­ter talk­ing with his friend and men­tor, Dr. Al­fred L. Shoe­maker; who along with Dr. Don Yoder and J. Wil­liam Frey cre­ated this Folk­lore Cen­ter in the 1950s and Penn­syl­va­nia Folk­life, the suc­ces­sor of The Dutch­man mag­a­zine printed at Franklin and Mar­shall Col­lege in Lan­caster County, PA. While par­tic­i­pat­ing with Dr. Shoe­maker’s Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch Folk Fes­ti­val at Kutz­town in 1960, and even­tu­ally writ­ing folk­life ar­ti­cles for his Penn­syl­va­nia Folk­life pe­ri­od­i­cal, Shaner spent a sub­stan­tial amount of time learn­ing his prin­ci­ples and work­ing un­der Dr. Shoe­maker’s di­rec­tion.

Dur­ing these 1960s when “Dick” Shaner was also teach­ing U.S. His­tory in the Al­len­town School District, while liv­ing on his par­ent’s farm near Ma­cungie, he pur­chased his un­cle Fred­die Bieber’s Farm near Lobachsville, Berks County, PA who was an out­stand­ing early Amer­i­can oak bas­ket­maker, and fea­tured in a ma­jor ar­ti­cle for Shoe­maker’s Folk­life mag­a­zine. Con­cerned with the his­toric Amer­i­cana build­ings in the beau­ti­ful Oley Val­ley, Dick would even­tu­ally sell his un­cle Bieber’s moun­tain­ous farm a few years later, and pur­chase Clarence Yoder’s his­toric Lobachsville grist­mill-farm for a sum­mer place. While restor­ing these Oley Val­ley build­ings and still teach­ing in Al­len­town, Dr. Shoe­maker, mean­while, was con­va­lesc­ing from a men­tal de­pres­sion in the early 1960s af­ter his failed at­tempt at an open air mu­seum in Lan­caster County. How­ever, Shoe­maker would hitch a ride down to Lobachsville to dis­cuss Shaner’s plans for the his­toric 1745 Yoder mill-farm, where on week­ends they would bake bread to­gether in the 18th Cen­tury brick bakeoven.

In sev­eral in­stances, when Shoe­maker talked with Dick on PA Dutch folk­lore, he of­ten re­ferred to the idea of hold­ing a “Colo­nial Amer­i­can Cherry Fair.” The ba­sis of which, to de­velop a theme around cher­ries that would be syn­ony­mous with the term- Amer­i­cana, and would re­volve around New World in­ven­tions and Amer­i­can¬isms such as: the PA Dutch Con­estoga wagon, Penn­syl­va­nia long ri­fle, cherry pie, na­tive molded waf­fles, and other PA Dutch culi­nary new foods. Dick even­tu­ally re­al­ized the wis­dom of Doc Shoe­maker’s idea to hold a “Colo­nial Amer­i­can Cherry Fair” right here in Lobachsville around the mill, but did not act un­til he ap­plied and was ac­cepted for a teach­ing po­si­tion at Oley Val­ley High School in 1967. Now, he was se­cure enough to fol­low this idea in earnest and take the gam­ble.

Sit­ting at the Lobachsville grist­mill house porch with “Doc” Shoe­maker amid the tow­er­ing grist­mill, ice house, bakeoven and dec­o­rated Swiss bank barn must have been an ideal set­ting for these two gentle­men, and most pic­turesque, then as now, was the 1745 grassy com­mons that sep­a­rated the grist­mill from the west­ern por­tion of the vil­lage where the gen­eral store and vil­lage tav­ern were lo­cated. Lobachsville, founded by Peter Lobach, a French Huguenot Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch­man, the vil­lage mill was orig­i­nally built by Wil­helm Pott whose 1755 home was just down the road, across the Pine Creek. For ar­ti­cles on the start and suc­cess of the Lobachsville Cherry Fair, see my “Look Back in His­tory” col­umns from 11/02/16 & 04/06/17.

COUR­TESY OF AMER­I­CAN FOLK­LIFE COL­LEC­TION.

Still re­main­ing to this day are the Pal­la­dian barn win­dows crowned with ex­quis­ite key­stones, an in­flu­ence of English Ar­chi­tec­ture in the Oley Val­ley, how­ever, gone are the hex signs. Lobachsville Mill Barn, 1960s. Grassy com­mons sim­i­lar to those seen in the back­ground pro­vid­ing the per­fect ru­ral scene for hun­dreds of en­thu­si­asts to con­verge for an Amer­i­cana Cherry Fair over the Memo­rial Day week­end!

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