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Hex Sign

Dublin Core




This hand-painted wooden disc is in the style of Pennsylvania Dutch "hex" signs, whose use is much disputed. (This one is almost certainly not authentic, as explained presently.)

The so-called Pennsylvania Dutch were not Dutch at all but German, after the word Deutch ("German") in their native language. Living largely in an area of Pennsylvania roughly between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, these American immigrants painted geometric designs on their barns for purposes that are hotly debated. According to Elmer L. Smith, Hex Signs and Other Barn Decorations (Lebanon, Pa.: Applied Art Publishers, 1965, p. 2):

"[T]he land's unique barn decorations have long been a puzzle to tourists and scholars. What are the geometric designs? How did they begin? Why do they persist? It is part of the popular folklore that a barn with a six-pointed star on it will be protected from lighting and that a white line around a barn door will keep the devil out. Students of history will vehemently claim that nonesense: the signs are merely decorations. Area residents offer theories that the signs are 'fire signs,' that is, that they give notice that the properties were covered by early insurance companies. Other signs may be symbols of freedom and land ownership, or expressions of personal creativity, and indigenous folk art resembling the popular quilting patterns of the area.
Or...they may actually be hex signs, carefully wrought circles meant to ward off bad luck, witchcraft, and spells, and evil spirits."

The 16" diameter sign featured here is made of quarter-inch plywood, whereas traditional hex signs were painted directly into the barn siding. Also the sign lacks, the nail holes expected if it had been so applied, instead bearing a gummed hanger on the back. This suggests a replica made to hang indoors, say in a rec room.

The rosette design is traditional. (It is made by scribing a circle with a compass, then— keeping the same radius but placing the point on the circumference - scribing an arc that intersects the circumference at two ponts; these then serve as the center for more arcs, until the design is completed.)



Digital image copyright 2014 Images in this collection are not to be used for any commercial purposes without the expressed written permission of the Center for Inquiry and Dr. Joe Nickell. Patrons of this digital museum are free to utilize materials from the museum for non-commercial and educational purposes.