An ornament crafted by a Maine artisan and representing Pennsylvania now adorns the official White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room, an oval state parlor on the first floor of the White House. The 18½-foot Douglas fir is decorated with ornaments representing each of the 50 states.
Corinth artist Jj Starwalker painted the ornament to be a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign, said to bring the blessing of prosperity.
“What I was taught — and not everyone follows the same traditions — is that these signs are prayers, vocations and blessings,” Starwalker said.
Hex signs often are found on peaks of barns or homes, and carry meanings such as protection, love, strength, welcome and prosperity. The uniform designs are created using geometry. A circle is divided into six equal parts, like a pie, and a design is built from that framework.
Dutch settlers brought the tradition to America, specifically Pennsylvania, but historians and folklorists disagree about how or why. Starwalker, a descendent of Pennsylvania Germans, learned the art from her grandmother.
“I have done some research and I’ve seen similar signs, mostly carved into buildings in the old country,” Starwalker said in a phone interview Thursday. “Some of them are painted, occasionally you’ll see them in stained glass, but mostly they’re carved in old stone buildings.”
For the White House tree, Department of Community & Economic Development in Pennsylvania wanted an ornament made of natural materials to represent the state. Starwalker’s artwork is painted on unbleached muslin stretched in a circular wooden frame.
She assumes they stumbled upon her website, www.dutchhexsign.com. When Starwalker received an e-mail from the department about creating the White House ornament, she excitedly called them back.
“And one of her first questions was, ‘Where are you?’” Starwalker said, laughing. “I said, ‘I’m in Corinth, Maine,’ and she said, ‘Oh Dear.’”
Nevertheless, Starwalker sent the department an image of a prosperity sign by e-mail and crossed her fingers. She thought they probably would choose an artist living in Pennsylvania, but the next day, they requested her ornament to represent the state.
That night, she painted “Pennsylvania” into the prosperity hex, and in the morning, she shipped it out. From Pennsylvania, the ornament was sent to Chicago, where all the ornaments were being gathered before going on to the White House.
The sign contains a traditional Double Creator Star: two six-pointed stars, one inside of the other.
“We believe we are working with the creator to bring about prosperity,” she said. “It’s what the sign has symbolized as long as I’ve been painting. It’s what my grandmother taught me.”
A hex rosette in the center represents good fortune.
“It’s sitting at the heart of our nation, the White House, and emanating out,” she said.
The stars are painted red and blue. To her, red and blue symbolize the coming together of political parties to invoke prosperity for the country.
“We need to work all together as one,” she said.
Starwalker, born and raised in Michigan, has lived in several states across the country. She moved to Maine almost three years ago for the climate.
“I love the four seasons. It’s rural. The land is reasonably affordable. I like the friendly people. And now I’ve put roots down,” said Starwalker.
She began her career as a folk artist in the 1970s, and is now a member of the Worldwide Women Artists Organization and a member of the Maine Crafts Association.
From Maine, she ships her artwork as far away as California and as near as a neighboring town. She also designs plywood outdoor hexes that are 1-4 feet in diameter and fabric indoor hexes are usually less than 1 foot in diameter.
“The fabric one, which is what I sent to the White House, is designed for hanging indoors over a mantel place or in a kitchen, the heart of the home,” she said.
An associate of Rep. Mike Michaud has agreed to try to take a photo of the ornament hanging on the White House tree for her.
“It’s very exciting,” said Starwalker. “I wish it was easier to go visit the White House so I could hop on a plane and go down and say, ‘Oh, that’s where it is.’”
Jj Starwalker will sell her signs at the Maine Craft Association holiday store in the Bangor Mall through the end of the holiday season. For information, visit www.dutchhexsign.com.