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Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: For Scott Stoneback, Alburtis is a wonderful hometown for the art of oral histories

Not many towns can boast their own homegrown videographer. And not many towns can boast their own oral history series. But for the borough of Alburtis, nestled in southwestern Lehigh County, this weekend's Centennial Celebration will showcase a hometown rich in the contributions of its people made to preserve the quality of life they enjoy today. The moments in Alburtis life, as told by the people who lived them, has been captured by the borough's own, Scott Stoneback, and his production company, The Media People Inc., in a two-hour oral history series, "Reflections on Alburtis," premiering Saturday at 10 a.m., at Lockridge Church, Franklin and Church streets. The project was produced for the Alburtis-Lockridge Historical Society, based at the church, and headed by Kevin Shoemaker.

In the last decade, nearly 100 oral histories of those who lived in the borough have been preserved by Stoneback, with "Alburtis, A Wonderful Hometown" and "Alburtis, Over 100 Years of Memories." The stories run the gamut in borough history, touching upon its former iron industry, railroad station, shirt mills, school house, and grocery and general merchandise stores, to name some. The productions garnered national recognition with the Telly Awards and the Videographer Awards.

A 1962 graduate of Emmaus High School, and Temple University's School of Communication, Stoneback still resides in the same home he grew up in on Franklin Street, overlooking the county's 60-acre Lockridge Park and Swabia Creek. In 1977, he and his wife, Francee Fuller, also a Temple graduate, founded The Media People, which is based at the family home. Stoneback is a former Alburtis mayor, Lehigh County commissioner and original board member of Camelot for Children. He chairs the Alburtis Centennial Committee.

Regarding the process of historical documentaries, Stoneback explained that his subjects are interviewed; their comments transcribed and then arranged in an order that tells a story. In oral history interviews, he seeks to capture a piece of the subject's life with regard to a special event or a subject in which that person played an active role.

Many of those interviewed in years past have since passed on, Stoneback said, but their recording "provides a remarkable insight into the lives they lived. In this way, their voices may still be heard today and into the future. Just as the farm fields around Alburtis become warehouses, future generations will have no direct knowledge of the life that existed when those fields were cultivated, seeded and harvested. These recordings preserve those personal memories of the people who lived them."

For "Reflections on Alburtis," Stoneback gathered 12 hours of recordings from more than 40 residents, young and old, as they reflected on life, past and present, during half-hour interviews conducted at his home studio. Each interview was carefully edited to approximately five minutes. The oral histories were preserved on Delkin brand Archival Gold DVDs for archival purposes and will be among those items included in the borough's centennial time capsule.

"They should last through the next 100 years," Stoneback said. "The question is if the equipment will be available to play them."

One of those interviewed by Stoneback was Sharon Trexler, executive secretary for the borough of Alburtis and a member of the Centennial Committee. She's been involved with the planning of this weekend's events along with representatives from borough organizations. She'll be among those present with Council President Steve Hill for Friday's kickoff and 100th birthday cake-cutting at 6:30 p.m., at Borough Hall.

"It was wonderful to work with a committee who offered different ideas and levels of involvement. There was a real sense of community," said Trexler. "When people come hear the oral histories, they will feel that swell of pride. They may feel like they want to live here." She added that the celebration weekend coincides with Mother's Day Sunday, May 12, this year only because the town officially was recognized as the borough of Alburtis on May 13, 1913.

The Media People, recognized as the oldest independent, full-service production company in the Lehigh Valley, was established in 1975. It has completed more than 2,000 productions for clients in the United States and abroad and has garnered more than 50 national and international awards for its work. Locally, it has completed historical documentaries for Dorney Park, the Emmaus Historical Society, the Macungie Historical Society, and the Kalmbach Trust, all of which captured national awards. Stoneback serves as the company's executive producer, with his son, Ellis, as the videographer and editor. Originally a 16 mm script to screen production company, The Media People now operates in broadcast high definition video for more than 100 clients.

"With the ease of video recording today, families should be recording members of their family's recollections of the past so they may share them with descendents who will never have the opportunity to meet these family members, except through these oral histories recordings," Stoneback said.

"Reflections on Alburtis" will be available for sale later this month through the historical society. A two-hour recap of the weekend's centennial events by videographers Ellis Stoneback and Greg Roth – including Saturday morning's Centennial Parade -- also will become available for sale. An Alburtis Centennial Souvenir Book has been created by Scott and his wife.

"It is the volunteer fire company members, the Camp Fire and Scout leaders, volunteers at the Alburtis Area Recreation Association, plus the government and other community leaders that make Alburtis, A Wonderful Hometown," Stoneback said.

Mary Himmelberger, revitalization coordinator for the Lehigh Valley Chamber's Borough Business Revitalization Program, works with small towns, one of them being Alburtis. (The population of Alburtis is over 2,300; its size is nearly a mile).

"With the quality of life, sense of place, and passion of its people, there was no question in making the Alburtis Centennial a three-day celebration," said Himmelberger, who resides in Bernville, Berks Co. "Our next goal for the borough is to go after National Historic District Designation."

There will be plenty of arts-related happenings throughout the weekend. The 30th annual outdoor May Queen Celebration presented by the Lockridge Theatre Group will be held on Sunday at 2 p.m., at Lockridge Park. The performance will be held during the May Day Festival which runs from noon to 5 p.m. The May Queen Celebration traditionally has been held the first Sunday in May but this year, at the borough's request, the performance is being held in conjunction with the centennial events. This year's May Queen to be crowned, Kaetlyn Faith Calissi, also will serve as the Centennial Queen. Her attendants are Kaitlyn O'Gera and Nicollette Reiser. All are seniors at Emmaus High School.

Scott Stoneback's sister, Faith Andrews, is director of the Lockridge Theatre Group and its May Queen Celebration and carries on the tradition in honor of her mother, the late Jean Stoneback. According to Andrews, the show started in 1983, as an idea to bring back a tradition including the Maypole Dance that first found its roots at the Alburtis School in 1928. In addition to the May Queen and the Maypole Dance, Sunday's cast includes King Henry and his Royal Court who welcome the spring season to Alburtis in Renaissance fashion.

Andrews said she invited previous May Queens, their attendants and cast members to attend Sunday's show and be recognized. Through the years, many children of the locale have grown up through the ranks of the May Queen presentation, she added. Past participants often return to enjoy the traditions the show represents.

"Today we have second generations of families stepping lively on the green at Lockridge in this annual tradition," said Andrews who also will be presenting a vintage fashion show through her company, "Caroline's Closet." Using local models, she will narrate "Fashions through the Ages" on Saturday at 4 p.m., at the park's Cast House. Later that evening, a concert by the Macungie Band will be held from 7 to 9.

Local artisan Peg McCormack, owner of Folkwerks Art Studio in Alburtis, finds enjoyment in the borough's landscape as her subject. Primarily a sculptor (chalkware) of farm animals, her watercolors and pastels reflect borough history in such scenes as the Maypole Dance, Lockridge Park, the Camp Fire cabin on Church Street, Lockridge Church, and the Surrey Ride at Christmas. Her art, along with artistic interpretations of the town, past and present, by her students, will be on display throughout the weekend beginning Friday at 7:15 p.m., at the neighboring Old Vic Art Gallery and Frame Shop, owned by Susan M. Hercek.

McCormack is a graduate of Parkland High School who studied under William Swallow and at the Baum School of Art under Richard Lieberman. She has brought highly recognized artists to the borough as studio teachers, including Bill Wentz and Will Daskal, and for workshops including pastel artists David Garrison and Cecile Houel of France. Upcoming artists include watercolorists Jean Uhl Spicer in September and Tony Couch in June 2014.

As an Alburtis councilwoman and member of the Revitalization Committee, McCormack said she wants weekend visitors to leave "excited about the arts and sense of community in the borough."

Among the crafters at Sunday's May Day Festival in the park will be 11-year-old Grace Bors, who actually has her own business – A Girl's Gotta Eat! – featuring handmade play food for 18-inch doll play.

The Alburtis youngster, daughter of Jessica and Frank Bors Jr., believes that no doll is meant to be shelved, but rather played with to full enjoyment. Personally, she found herself wanting more than just dressing up her dolls or hosting tea parties with empty dishes. She wanted to step more into the scene with creative play.

It was a visit to Crayola that sparked her imagination once she was introduced to its Dream Makers series. She began experimenting at home with the kit's dry clay and eventually found herself creating culinary delights that filled those empty dishes. She designed cupcakes, cake pop-up sticks, and birthday cakes that lit with battery votives. In the company of happy dolls, she expanded her repertoire to include pretend-food menus with breakfast and lunch bundles and dessert offerings. She even perfected Chinese takeout.

The young entrepreneur decided she was ready to market her happiness, keeping it affordable and fun, with the formation of A Girl's Gotta Eat! and the Facebook page. She said she already has customers from as far away as Virginia. Bors said she cautions customers that her pretend food is just that – pretend food – and is not intended for children under 8 and is not edible.

"She's a pretty crafty girl," said her mom, adding that Grace enjoys fashion design and following TV's "Project Runway." She studies pottery with Jennifer Nahan Gidley at the Baum School of Art in Allentown and waits for the day when she is old enough to enroll in fashion classes.

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The Alpha/Omega Players of 301 E. First St., Birdsboro, Berks Co., will present "Bugsy Malone Jr." beginning Friday through May 19. Upcoming musicals for its 2013-14 season include Jason Robert Brown's musical, "13," Nov. 29-Dec. 8, and "Avenue Q the Musical," March 28-April 6.


GoggleWorks 2013 juried exhibition in Reading is themed "HOME: Interpreting the Familiar," opening Saturday through June 23. An opening reception will be held Friday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The multi-faceted exhibition thinks beyond the literal and interprets a very familiar subject matter -- HOME. Genevieve Coutroubis, award-winning documentary photographer and ethnographer, served as juror. She is director of programming for The Center for Emerging Visual Artists in Philadelphia.

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