The culture of the coal region is at the center of the Walk In Center Folk Fest


Oct. 9 – SCHUYLKILL HAVEN – From the “Beer Barrel Polka” to Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs, the region’s culture was celebrated at the Walk In Art Center on Saturday.

The Folk Fest, sponsored by the Folk Art Alliance, showcased a wide variety of artistic and cultural activities that define the rich heritage of Schuylkill, Berks and Lancaster counties.

From Keith Brintzenhoff’s renditions of Pennsylvania Dutch folk music on autoharp and dulcimer to the traditional Gaelic and Celtic steps of Irish dance troupe Sabo, the region’s heritage was center stage from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. .

Jenna Winton, a folklorist, said the roots of the region’s contemporary culture lie in the wave of immigrants who came to the coal region in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

“So many immigrants came here seeking religious freedom,” Winton said. “They left behind a rich cultural heritage.”

By celebrating culture at events like Folk Fest, she said, “the hope is to preserve it for future generations.”

Cool temperatures and a brisk northerly wind somewhat hampered outdoor activities early in the day.

Polish artist Peter Cieslukauski sat at his booth wearing earmuffs and a scarf before entering the art center.

“The Polish Star Man”, as he calls himself, fashions 80-pointed stars from folded paper, a form of origami from Eastern Europe.

“I remember the nuns at St. Casimir’s School in Shenandoah were making these Polish stars,” said Cieslukauski, 60, who studied art at the University of Krakow in Poland.

Shirley Ravitz exhibited her personal collection of Jewish religious objects.

Among them was a megilla, a religious scroll in an olive wood box made in Jerusalem.

Ravitz, who was born in Israel, said the scroll inside the box tells the story of Esther, the heroine of the Purim story. It is read on the annual festival of Purim, which was celebrated on March 16 and 17 this year.

A retired speech therapist, Ravitz is a member of the Oheb Zedeck Synagogue Center in Pottsville.

Personal appearances were made by Schuylkill County Fair Queen Faith Yeager, Princess Lila Evans and Little Miss Ariana Eifert.

Performing artists included the Shenandoah All-Star Polka Band, fiddler Paul Riffon and musician Dave Matsinko.

Artists and craftspeople demonstrated their skills throughout the day inside the arts center’s new education center.

Included were weaving, iconography, Ukrainian sunflower painting and pottery making by Debbie Gilbert, a potter from Schuylkill Haven.

The kids painted their own hexagonal signs, also called barn stars, which appear on barns in the Dutch Farming Region of Pennsylvania.

Sherre Yurenko and her mother, Pearl Dewald Yurenko, revisited the family’s Pennsylvania Dutch heritage by creating a Christmas decoration with a hexagonal sign.

Sherre Yurenko has lived most of her adult life in California, where she was a nurse, but recently moved back to the Orwigsburg area.

“I grew up here and the culture has stayed with me,” she said, coloring in a picture of a Pennsylvania Dutch diselfink. “I did some research, and my mother’s ancestry dates back to the 1400s in Germany.”

Music, folk art exhibits, and demonstrations were free, as were a variety of ethnic dishes, including pierogi, halushki, kielbasa, and Jewish apple cake.

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