Hex Signs of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country
About 300 years ago, groups of peasant farmers from the Rhine region of Germany migrated to southeastern Pennsylvania. These settlers came to take advantage of religious freedom being offered by William Penn. They included settlers of plain dress -Amish and Mennonites – and others of more “worldly” or “fancy” dress – Lutherans and other Reformed groups. Over time, these settlers became known as “Pennsylvania Dutch”.
Like other immigrants, they brought their old world language, dress, traditions and art to their new home. Mystical bird and floral designs graced their birth and marriage certificates, family Bibles, quilts, and some furniture. The “fancy” farmers also decorated their large German style bank barns with colorful geometric patterns. Six-pointed star designs were very popular. The German word for six, “sechs”, sounded like hex to their English-speaking neighbors. In time these “hex” patterns became commonly called hex signs. This custom persists today.
These bright, colorful designs had meanings or legends. Families selected a hex sign based on color, design and its meaning. Some of the more popular symbols included: hearts for love, birds (called distelfinks) for luck and happiness, tulips for faith, and stars for good luck. The colors used for painting were also carefully chosen because of their added meaning. Blue conveyed protection, white purity, green abundance and red strong emotion. The hex symbols were individually hand painted for many years. This approach, naturally very time consuming, limited hex sign use and enjoyment even in the Dutch Country.
In the early 1940’s, Jacob Zook, an 11th generation Pennsylvania Dutchman living in the village of Paradise, PA successfully pioneered the hand “silk screening” of hex signs. Here, a “silk screen” is used to apply each of the design’s bright colors to a carefully prepared signboard. Four or five colors are usually used; each color requires it’s own carefully designed screen. With air-drying between steps, a design usually takes about a week to complete. Silk screening, performed by skilled craftsmen, allowed hex signs to be made in quantity at modest cost. Interest in hex signs blossomed once they became readily available. Today, hex signs can be found throughout the world. In many homes, they have been enjoyed for almost three generations.
This History of Hex Signs information has been provided by the folks at Zook Family Crafts – “The Hex Place©” (formerly Will-Char) in Paradise, Pennsylvania.
Businesses that sell Hex Signs and related merchandise: