Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs

I recently moved to an area of Berks County where Hex signs are very prevalent. Growing up I had always seen Hex signs since some of my family background is Pennsylvania Dutch and my grandparents didn’t live too far away from the area.  My continued driving around my new home increased my fascination and I needed to know more, if I was going to design my own. Were there meanings behind these designs and what were they all about?  I went to the local library and checked out some books, picked up some pamphlets around the area and trolled the internet.

There are differing camps in regards to the meaning of Hex signs and even a differing of opinion in where they originated.  Some people say that different parts of the sign mean something.
 Scalloped Border- Tranquility, Smooth Sailing
 Closed Circle Border- Eternity Triangle, Trinity
 4-Pointed Star- Good Luck
 5-Pointed Star- Star of Bethlehem, Protection Against Evil
 Double 5-Pointed Star- Morning Star, Sun and Light
 6-Lobed Petals- (Open Tulips) Faith, Fertility, Safeguard from Harm
 6-Pointed Star- Good Luck, Good Fortune
 8-Pointed Star- Perseverance
 Double 8-Pointed Star- Fertility
 12- Pointed Star- Rationalism and Justice
 However, there are other people who say that the signs have no meaning but decoration. They are simply a folk art decoration for barns that became popular when paint became a more affordable medium.  Hex signs were also said to be a way to ward of witches, but the Pennsylvania Dutch will say they are “chust for nice.”  Originally, the Hex signs were believed to originate in the mid-1800’s when the paint became affordable, but 4-foot wooden stars have been found on the gable ends of barns dating back to the 1700’s.

Whether you believe in the “meanings” behind the Hex signs or just enjoy the simple beauty of Pennsylvania Dutch Folk art, Hex signs are an interesting part of U.S. art history.  Check out some of the popular Hex sign artists: Jacob Zook ,  Johnny Ott, and Eric and Johnny Claypoole .

One other misconception of the Pennsylvania Dutch Hex signs is that they originated from the Amish. The Hex signs are prevalent in Amish Country, but they are not Amish, you will not see Hex signs on any Amish barns.  The Amish and Mennonites are known as plain folk and their religion prohibits such “fancy” ornamentation.

Come visit Pennsylvania Dutch country.  There are several tours available for seeing some of the extraordinary Hex sign barn art.  Hex Barn Art Tour, and,

In exploring the rich history of the Hex sign I began to create my own Hex signs for our home. Right now I am in the middle of designing my first Hex sign.  I have created it on paper and am in the process of working it onto wood.  It has been an interesting experience for me because of how measured everything is.  I haven’t worked with a protractor and compass since I was in elementary school.

Heidi Kelly
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Manual Setting on your Camera

Does your camera have a manual setting? Do you know how to use the manual setting? If not, here is a little advice.  Using the manual settings can change the look of a photograph dramatically.  Below I describe how changing your aperture can change the look of your photographs.  Depending on your camera and lens your f-stops (aperture) will vary, but below is the norm.

0.5   0.7   1.0   1.4   2   2.8   4   5.6   8   11   16   22   32   45   64   90   128
Larger aperture opening                                       smaller aperture opening

By changing the F-stops on the camera you can focus on one small part of the photograph or have the entire scene in focus.  In order to focus on one small item open the aperture all the way.  My camera’s largest aperture is f-stop  4.5.  I love using the wide open aperture because it really shows a focus on one item.  This is great if you are pinpointing one small item.  Close the aperture down a bit more and it is great for portraits.  If you keep the aperture wide open and take a portrait photo you may focus on the nose, but the eyes could be out of focus.  I like to do under 8.0 for portraits because it will soft focus the background.  If you are taking scenic photos then usually it is better to go with a smaller aperture, an 8.0 or higher f-stop setting.

Of course, the ambient light is also a factor.  Use the smaller apertures if you want your entire photograph in focus, but you need to make sure the shutter speed lets in enough light.  Most cameras come with an in camera light meter and this will help you to make sure you get the correct speed of the shutter.  I program in the aperture size I want and then aiming towards my subject I use the light meter to get my shutter speed correct.  You may need to make adjustments to the aperture if you don’t have enough light.  Keep in mind if you are hand holding your camera try to stay at a shutter speed no slower than 1/125 of a second.  If you go longer than that you may get camera shake unless you use a tripod.

I know it is a bit of a technical subject, so go out and experiment.  Now that digital cameras are so prevalent you can see what you get as soon as you take it.  If you have any questions please contact me and I will try to help.

Heidi Kelly

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Make the Everyday Extraordinary

Shoe Tree

Okay, I won’t lie; my favorite ordinary item is the SHOE!  And in the beginning almost all I did was photograph shoes.  My teachers said, “Get outside!”  But I continued with my shoe fetish.

Old Shoes

Soon I made it outside, but the shoes followed. 

Shoe Berry

I’m sure most girls would love it if shoes grew on trees, it would be so much cheaper!!!!

So when you are thinking about your next photograph don’t forget, anything can become a work of art. One way to change ordinary to extraordinary is try photographing the objects up close to create abstract art. Textures, colors and light are other things to pay attention to when you are creating.

A Rose

Another way to create extraordinary from the ordinary is the next time you shoot check out your photos all together, especially if you are shooting a similar theme.  The first example came from when I was shooting 35mm film.  I was working on a photo journalism project (creating a story with photos) when this appeared on my contact sheet:

Getting Ready

I couldn’t help but print it and it was eventually featured in a show.

Nowadays, the digital world has created a new way to create contact sheets.  I used PhotoShop to create a contact sheet of my cloud shoot.  (I have a crazy fascination with clouds right now.)  Once the contact sheet was created I edited the piece to create this collage.


Changing the point the point of view with your camera can also create some extraordinary pieces.  Don’t be afraid to lie down and view the world from the dog’s or cat’s eye view or look at something from a different angle other than straight on. It is an unexpected view point that can create the extraordinary.

The Fast Life

Whatever you do, keep creating!


Show Me to My Seat!

The Philadelphia Chapter of the Women’s Caucus for the Arts is participating in the Fringe Festival in Philadelphia this year. They have chosen a theme based on “A Place at the Table” by Judy Chicago. The group is altering/artistically decorating chairs for a demonstration during the Fringe. The chairs will also be used as part of the set for “The Waiting Room” performed at the Old Pine Community Center from September 10-12 and 17-18. See the Philadelphia Chapter’s blog for complete details.

As a member of the Philadelphia Chapter, I decided to participate in this fun project. I had an old chair laying around so I brought it to our meeting on August 11th and started work on it. Below are some photos of the chair I worked on. As part of the project they wanted us to include quotes or statistics on women’s placement in our society. I chose to use some quotes written by famous women.

“Women and Elephants never forget.”
Dorothy Parker
“Every woman has the right to be beautiful.”
Elizabeth Arden
“Help one another is part of the religion of sisterhood.”
Louisa May Alcott

“It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should refuse an offer of marriage.”
Jane Austen

Please come out and support the Women’s Caucus for the Arts- Philadelphia Chapter at the Fringe Festival on September 3 in Old City at 6pm.


Composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art.  Besides the actual subject of the work of art, composition, I believe, is the most important element.

When deciding on composition in photography, first pick the subject.  Once the subject is chosen pick up the camera and frame the image in the view finder.  My teacher always said, “Check your four corners.” In other words, check everything inside the view finder before you take the shot.  In the day of digital it’s a little easier to take a bad shot and not have pay for the film and processing, but if there is a good shot to be had, check the four corners!

Below are examples of checking your four corners. These are both of the same bridge, in the first image a part of a little girl is in the bottom right hand corner.  WHOOPS, forgot that corner!  In the second, more of the opening of the bridge is missing and now we are not sure of height of the bridge. The second image leaves something to the imagination.

Forgot Four Corners

Four Corners checked

One of my favorite rules is the rule of thirds.  Look at your subject and think of it as a grid.

The points of intersection are called crash points or power points.  The subject of your image does not have to touch the points or lines but could run along them as well.  The rule of thirds just creates a more visually dynamic piece.

Not visually dynamic

Visually dynamic

A great many people like to take pictures with their subject in the center.  This works for picture taking and also in portrait photography, but don’t be afraid to throw your images off center.  Create something to provoke a thought.  

Traditional Portrait

Artistic Wedding Portrait

Other ways of making a photograph more visually dynamic is leave something to the imagination.  Take a photograph up close, cropping subject or show lines running off the page to create movement of the eye.

Just a picture of a sculpture

Upclose cropping to create a more visually dynamic image

Line leading the eye

Heidi Kelly