The Pennsylvania Music Preservation Society announced a collaboration with the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University in a joint, multi-year initiative to preserve, promote and catalog all of Lehigh County’s hex signs.
In keeping with its educational goals, the initiative also will include a student hex sign art competition, and hex sign displays, seminars and painting demonstrations at PAMP’s 2018 Great Pennsylvania Music and Arts Celebration at the historic Allentown Fairgrounds on Memorial Day Weekend.
Patrick Donmoyer, executive director of The Heritage Center, has studied hex signs in depth, and cataloged those in Berks County. At the collaboration announcement, he said he plans to do the same for Lehigh County, adding that tourists “love” hex signs.
“The Lehigh Valley has something unique to promote,” he said, referring to the endangered “Blumme” or flower hex sign style that the initiative with PAMPS is being created to save.
“Like two legs of the same pair of pants, Lehigh and Berks counties share the role of being the heartland of the Pennsylvania Dutch history and culture,” Donmoyer said. “Eastern Berks and Western Lehigh counties are the epicenter of the indigenous folk art of hex signs and barn stars.”
Donmoyer will give presentations on Pennsylvania German culture, including hex signs, during the Celebration at the historic Allentown Fairgrounds.
“Some of the [hex sign] symbols date to Norse, and even pagan, art,” Donmoyer said. “It is no coincidence that the hub of hex sign activity is in Pennsylvania rather than, say, New York or New Jersey. There was freedom of religion in Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania’s leading hex sign and barn star painter, Eric Claypoole, will exhibit and give painting demonstrations at the Memorial Day event. He will also serve as one of the judges for the student hex sign contest. He said students will be encouraged to personalize their paintings to reflect their own unique backgrounds and experiences.
Lehigh County Executive Phillip Armstrong spoke at the collaboration announcement, and praised the hex sign initiative, noting its potential educational, cultural and economic impact.
“Getting students involved in the initiative is a great idea. It’s important that we maintain an appreciation for our heritage among the next generation, and the art contest is one important way to do that, along with cataloging and preserving the county’s hex signs. These efforts have the potential to increase tourism and provide a huge economic boost for the county.”
This year’s hex sign art competition is open to all Lehigh County students from kindergarten through high school, with plans to widen the competition to other counties next year, according to Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, CEO of PAMPS, which is organizing the inaugural three-day Celebration.