Lehigh County Commissioners told barn hex signs key to the county’s cultural identity
Lehigh County Commissioners were presented with an original “Blumme” style hex sign at a recent virtual meeting, and were told that the gift represents the start of a preservation journey that is an opportunity for the county to grow its cultural tourism.
The presentation was made by Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, who thanked county executive Phillips Armstrong and the commissioners for their “visionary” investment in the hex sign initiative she heads up for Pennsylvania’s Music Preservation Society (PAMPS). Part of the initiative involves promoting, preserving and cataloguing Lehigh County’s unique barn stars.
Quoting from Patrick Donmoyer’s definitive book on “Hex Signs: Myth and Meaning in Pennsylvania’s Barn Star,” Bennett explained that Lehigh and Berks counties are the “two- legged pants” of the Pennsylvania German Heartland, and each has their characteristic barn star or hex sign style. Donmoyer is director of the Pa. German Heritage Center at Kutztown University, and has been working with the initiative since it was inaugurated in 2018.
“While Berks County has continued to celebrate its Pennsylvania German heritage with powerful cultural benefits, estimated at $1.5 billion in overall impact in pre-COVID 2018 – Lehigh County has not,” Bennett told the commissioners. “Lehigh County has a rare opportunity to start a preservation journey with its unique ‘Blumme’ or petal hex sign style, that can have a positive economic impact over time.”
Bennett designed the gift hex sign to honor Lehigh County philanthropist General Harry C. Trexler and Captain Nolan Benner, first director of the Trexler Trust. It was painted by celebrated hex sign artist Eric Claypool, who gave the commissioners a virtual tour of his studio during the meeting.
Claypool described the hex sign as a 12-point star with four stars in the center, representing the seasons of the year. The teardrops circling the design give the illusion of a tulip, he said.
The hex sign also features the crossed sword and key of the Quartermaster Corps, where both Trexler and his protégé Benner received their military titles. Bennett noted that the Quartermaster Corps was essential in the feeding and care of the thousands of troops billeted at the historic Allentown Fairgrounds who were trained as ambulance drivers to evacuate casualties on the Western Front in WWI.
Bennett and her husband Martin Estrada currently own Benner’s 1910 Allentown mansion, which they spent years restoring to its original Italian Palladian architecture.
As part of a Power Point presentation to the commissioners, Bennett said one of her goals was to catalogue all the barn stars in Lehigh County, as Donmoyer has done for Berks County. “We have an opportunity to rebuild Lehigh County’s cultural identity. We look forward to continuing together on this Lehigh County hex sign preservation journey.”