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The Rundown on PA’s Famous Dutch Folk Art

When art and history come to mind, Pennsylvania is likely to be absent from your thoughts, unless you’re a historian or Pennsylvania native. However, those who are unaware of PA Dutch folk art are missing quite an elegant piece of American history. Many museums around the country feature various pieces of Dutch folk art. Furthermore, as you drive through Pennsylvania, you can still find famous Dutch folk art used on barns, storefronts, signs, and more!

Unless you know what to look for, you may miss a fascinating part of Pennsylvania as you drive through the state. There are three main things to know about PA Dutch folk art—fraktur, distelfink, and hex signs.


The word fraktur corresponds to the folk art made by the Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania. This art form was named Fraktur after a unique style of German writing which utilizes fractured strokes. The folk art comes in various forms, such as Vorschrift, Taufscheine, bookplate fraktur, pictorial & religious fraktur, and presentation fraktur.

Vorschrift Fraktur is all about calligraphy. Artists who specialized in Vorschrift focused on the first line of a text as they would write large, beautiful, capital letters. The style of writing was popular with Mennonites in the early 1800s.

Taufschein Fraktur refers to birth certificates and baptismal certificates. Documents are written with extreme care and often ordained with detailed, decorative borders. However, after some time, these certificates began being produced by printing machines, with only small spaces for freehand artwork.

Prime Example of Taufscheine

Bookplate Fraktur has survived in various books, religious texts, hymns, and more. Bookplate Fraktur thus corresponds to calligraphy and freehand artwork that is often balanced and full of detail.  

Pictorial and Religious Fraktur art is that of hand-drawn pieces that display portraits, history, landscapes, and more. This art can be used for religious purposes as well as house blessings.

Presentation Fraktur is artwork that was given as a gift and often given to students who excelled in school or to loved ones. These pieces of art could be used as bookmarks or keepsakes. Most of this form of fraktur is pictorial, with little, if any calligraphy.


A Distelfink is a drawing of a goldfinch that was frequently used in Dutch folk art. Distelfinks were drawn to symbolize happiness and good luck. Often, the Pennsylvania Dutch would draw two of them facing each other, with another drawing in between. 

However, plenty of examples of Distelfinks exist where one, two, three, or more were included.

Classic Distelfink Hex Sign
Prime Example of a Distelfink Hex Sign

Hex Signs

Related to Fraktur and Distelfink, hex signs are a classic form of Pennsylvania Dutch art. They were thought to be drawn with a bit of mysticism behind them as many symbols, colors, and styles have various meanings. Hex signs are paintings characterized by one of the many styles of stars in the middle of the painting with various patterns that form an outside circle. Some stars may only have 4 points whereas others go up to 12 points. However, some don’t even use stars altogether; rather, they use floral petals in the interior of the circle.  

Throughout Pennsylvania, many farmers, painters, and tradesmen painted barns painted with these hex signs on them. Eventually, people began painting wooden hex signs and hanging them on the sides of barns.

Hex Signs on Barn

Hex Signs on a Barn

History dates some barns were painted or ordained with hex signs in the early 1800s. However, in the mid-1900s, these hex signs became commercialized, and many barns have been painted since. They often feature Distelfinks, stars, compasses, roses, tulips, and more. Today, some artists, such as Eric Claypoole still paint hex signs on barns around Pennsylvania.

These hex signs stand as prominent symbols of Dutch folk art in Pennsylvania. Regardless of the reasons for the symbols, these iconic hex signs are still popular, intriguing, and easily admirable!. Next time you have a free weekend, consider driving around Dutch country and seeing how many hex signs you can find. While you’re at it, you can rock your favorite Pennsylvania county’s gear

Montgomery County Born and Raised Women's Hoodie

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