This artist feature originally appeared in Wyldspirit issue 2 (June 2014) and was entitled: Art and Inspiration: ‘Hex Signs – American Mandalas by Jessica Valentine’
Throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, Hex signs or Barn Signs are as much a part of the landscape as the farms and homes they occupy. Hex signs date back almost 300 years, when German immigrants, often Amish or Mennonite, but also Lutheran, settled there seeking religious freedom. Often referred to as “Pennsylvania Dutch”, a mispronunciation of the word “Deutch”, developed this unique style of art, not just as decoration, but also as a talisman of good fortune.
The Hex sign can consist of geometric designs of varying colors, traditional symbols such as hearts, birds, leaves or raindrops or combinations of these. Each symbol and color represented on the signs holds meaning and is meant to achieve a desired effect; Luck, Love or Fertility are among the more common themes. Signs could also be used for defensive measures as well, to ward off dangers such as bad luck or other evils. Painted signs began as more of a luxury item at first, the cost of paint being prohibitive to many small farmers. As time went on and farmers became more prosperous, a
painted barn became a symbol of success. The Hex Sign would not just be relegated to barns and houses though, making the transition to a popular design form on all sorts of indoor items as well: chairs, clocks doorways and walls all received their share of signs and became a quite
ubiquitous sight in many American kitchens.
The early 20th century saw the emergence of artists, such as Milton Hill, Jacob Zook, Johnny Ott and Eric and Johnny Claypoole, who took the art form out of the pasture and into the home, producing more manageable and inexpensive sizes and styles of signs, making them a popular souvenir of a trip to “Amish Country”. Traditional styles are still quite popular, but many modern styles are also taking form, incorporating new design techniques and motifs such as runic art.
I began my journey into this world of symbols after researching my own family past and links to the area. My desire to learn more about my biological paternal line, which had been mostly unknown to me, led me to discover family roots running through Snyder county in Pennsylvania. In an effort to come more in contact with my ancestry, I began to paint the signs and discovered that they hold more than just aesthetic value. Painting Hex Signs has given me a great sense of spirituality, the colors and designs taking form and becoming a manifestation of my intent. They also serve to connect me to my ancestral past, allowing for the constructs of time and distance to fall away and to bring me into a sense of oneness and a greater understanding of my own familial journey. As Buddhist monks often create intricate mandalas as a form of meditation, so too do Hex Signs, tap into a similar state of consciousness and beauty.
Hex Signs continue to evolve and take on personal elements of the artists who carry on this uniquely American form of art. Traditional symbols and colors often intermingle with new styles in ways the original creator may have never envisioned. For me, I feel a sense of history coming alive, a connection with my ancestors and the land they worked; a re-imagining of the American dream of prosperity and spiritual freedom coupled with a sense of beauty. The art of the Hex sign will continue to evolve and grow and with it, so too the evolution and growth of those who create these prayers in
You can contact Jessica directly for your very own Hex sign via her email: HERE. Jessica creates individual pieces based on spiritual guidance and personal request so each item is unique and personal to the user!