A trip through Northern Berks County, the land of the “Fancy” Pennsylvania Dutch, will take you through fertile countryside where hundred year old Pennsylvania German barns are decorated with a unique folk art design, referred to as hex signs. Also called Barn art, the hex sign area includes all of Berks and Lehigh, and portions of seven adjacent counties. The heaviest concentrations are found in the area of Old Route 22-The Hex Tour Highway.

Hex signs, or barn stars, are a form of American folk art which have existed as far back as the late 1700s.  Within the Pennsylvania Dutch area in Berks, Lehigh, Bucks, Northampton, and Montgomery counties, decorated barns once saturated the rural landscape, but only a fraction have survived to the present time.  Very few things in modern times are as meaningful or as steeped in history as the Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign. 

These large-scale murals (geometric paintings including stars, suns, and moons) have come to represent the region’s culture and traditional arts.  In the 1950s, with the rise in regional tourism, the art form changed from the strictly geometric designs found on barns to include other folk art motifs such as hearts, flowers, and birds which were painted on commercial sign board. It also became popular to assign meanings to each of these modern designs.  Many of these explanations can be traced to the 20th century forms of the art and are linked to area folk art painters Johnny Ott, Jacob Zook and Johnny Claypoole.

Pennsylvania Dutch Hex signs are always shown in a circular format or painted on circle plaques.  Many of the shapes and symbols here have been used for symbolic purposes across a wide variety of cultures and religions throughout history.  As an example, stars generally represent luck and protection and the distelfink (meaning thistle-fink in the Pennsylvania Dutch language) is a stylized version of the goldfinch and is known as the good luck bird.  Colors are a subtle way to add additional symbolism and variance to traditional hex designs.



     Single Distelfink                                        Triple Star                                          Rosette
Good luck and happiness,                         Good luck, happiness                        Safeguard against harm and 
the heart adds a measure                          and success                                      portends good luck in life
of love and the tulips, faith

For more information on the hex sign tour, stop by the Our Town Foundation/Arts & Craft Gallery at 320 State Street in Hamburg.


PO Box 306
Kutztown, PA 19503 

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