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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