Amish Country Arts & Crafts

Artistic expression by Lancaster County’s many cultural and ethnic groups takes a wide variety of forms. Consider the variety of items that qualify: hex signs, hooked rugs, pottery, baskets, quilts, furniture, dolls, photographs, etc.

Most visitors are initially drawn to Lancaster because of the Amish or the area’s rich history. Quilts have become the most visible and famous product of the region. While the antique Amish quilts had unique patterns and color combinations, more recently everyone from the Amish to Vietnamese immigrants have been involved in making new designs to delight the eye and modern taste.

Although artistic expression is generally frowned upon in Amish society, personal expression is nevertheless revealed in many items besides quilts. Among the Amish it can be seen in samplers, family records, rugs, dolls, towels, bookplates, drawings, furniture, boxes, and other household items. According to Daniel and Kathryn McCauley in their excellent book DECORATIVE ARTS AMONG THE AMISH OF LANCASTER COUNTY…

The more creative persons in the Amish community likely experimented first with decorative utilitarian objects or design in new rug or sampler patterns. If the church leaders did not censure the maker of the object, a new design was born… Usually they did not adopt an art form until it was no longer fashionable among other Pennsylvania German cultures.

In the Amish decorative arts, the McCauleys see careful design, attention to detail, natural themes and colors, strength, vibrancy, and the beauty of simplicity.

photo courtesy of Country Road Flowers

But color and beauty are expressed by all of the many groups in the area. Hex signs are associated with the Pennsylvania Germans, although not used by the Amish for decoration. They were introduced by Lutheran and Reformed people who first came to Pennsylvania. Designs, many of which were derived from religious motifs, appeared in many places, on furniture, documents, and the exteriors of barns. In time, these were misinterpreted as superstitious symbols. Today colorful hex signs cover a wide range of designs and meanings, with new contemporary ones introduced from time to time.

Artists and photographers have long been inspired to depict Amish scenes in their work, ironic in that the Amish try to avoid being photographed or "posing" for artists. Nevertheless, stunning photograph books and calendars filled with glossy pictures seem to be published yearly. Lancaster’s scenic beauty, historic buildings, and diverse cultures continue to fascinate amateurs and professionals, and there are prints, sketches, and paintings in every style that depict the peoples and wonders of Lancaster County.

 

Where to begin exploring this array of varied arts and crafts? Focus on your special interests and start looking around. One thing leads to another. Our list of advertisers is a great resource for everything from pottery to teddy bears, and dolls to furniture. Even more information is in the Shopping section of this website. Whether it is fine art, folk art, handcrafts, antiques, or novelty items, Amish Country is a treasure trove of riches, yours to discover and explore.

Amish Country News Cover Article by Brad Igou (Spring 2001)

 


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