Visual inspiration is everywhere, and some of our favorite designs can be found along rural Pennsylvania roads. Huge old barns often sport brightly-colored, round signs hung high along their eves–hex signs.
While the definitive origin of these signs is somewhat elusive, we do know that they are rooted in the folk art traditions that travelled with German settlers to central and southeastern Pennsylvania. Stars, rosettes, tulips, and hearts were all established forms found in German folk art but their application to barn artwork is unique to this region.
The function of hex signs is less certain, but there are generally two prevailing theories. The first is that the signs were designed as talismans–literal “hexes” or “painted prayers,” made to ward off bad weather, ensure good crops or curse a neighbor’s fields. This idea is supported by the fact that “Hexe” means “witch” in German, though the actual name “Hex” wasn’t used to describe the signs until the 1920s. An alternative theory pegs hex signs as simple folk art and decoration, meant to preserve an immigrants’ cultural identity in a new country.
In the 1940s, the popularity of hex signs led enterprising craftspeople to market and sell them (quite successfully) to the growing tourist population in the northeast. Not only were these intricate designs sold commercially as barn hex signs, but they acquired additional meaning too, eventually coming to represent Pennsylvania Dutch products as part of their package design. Signs that began as traditional folk art grew into recognizable visual symbols for those outside of the Dutch culture as well.
Whatever their true origin or function, these signs are incredible pieces that demand attention. The brightly colored designs are typically symmetrical and almost kaleidoscopic in style. The intricate signs contain a variety of symbols, from pointed stars, to sunbursts, and animals, each representing a different theme or message. Hex signs can bestow good luck, encourage love and romance, or remind one of the beauty of everyday life. The obscure meanings behind the colors and symbols aren’t necessary to enjoy their beauty and craft. Just like the best modern logos, hex signs can be appreciated on many levels. We’ve created a set of our own Seedhouse hex signs that you’ll see sprinkled throughout our work and on social media.
We did our reading here: