About Hex Signs
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.
The shaping of the Hex Highway landscape shows a strong influence of Swiss and German immigrants to this region during the 18th and 19th centuries. Collectively known as the "Pennsylvania Dutch", these people developed a rich folk art tradition of colorful quilts, needlework, decorative arts and paint decorated furniture unique to Dutch Country. Although the tradition of painting hex signs did not begin until the mid-nineteenth century, the geometric patterns and symbolism of barn decorations traces its root to the artistry and symbolism of Medieval Europe.
The decoration of barns is a very late development in the Pennsylvania German folk art. Prior to the 1830's, the cost of paint meant that most barns were left unpainted. As paint became affordable, the Pennsylvania Germans began to decorate their barns much like they decorated items in their homes. Barn decorating reached its peak in the early twentieth century, at which time there were many artists who specialized in barn decorating. Drawn from a large repertoire of folk designs, barn painters combined many elements in their decorations. The geometric patterns of quilts can easily be seen in the patterns of many hex signs. Hearts and tulips seen on barns are commonly found on elaborately lettered and decorated birth, baptism and marriage certificates known as Fraktur