New Exhibition at Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center Celebrates Barn Star Painter Milton J. Hill

Hill family in front of barn.

KUTZTOWN, Pa. – Just in time for the Kutztown Folk Festival, a new exhibition celebrating the life and work of Berks County barn star artist Milton J. Hill opens Friday, June 30, and runs through Saturday, Sept. 30, in the gallery at the DeLight E. Breidegam Building, Headquarters of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University. Through original works of art, cultural artifacts and ephemera, discover how this innovative, third-generation barn painter from Virginville, Berks County, preserved and transformed traditional barn decoration among the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Barn star artist Milton J. Hill (1887-1972) of Virginville, Berks County, began his career as a traditional barn painter in 1902 at the age of 14. As a third-generation painter inspired by the art of his father and grandfather, Hill’s work continued a well-established artistic tradition for the decoration of barns throughout the region. As both an artist and innovator, Hill was best known for producing the most elaborate geometric star patterns found in the region. His signature barn star design is known as the “Hill Star” today in honor of his unique contributions to the agricultural folk art of the region.

Long before the coining of the term “hex sign” by the tourist industry in the 1920s, three generations of Hill family of barn painters used the original Pennsylvania Dutch vernacular terms for the art form, Scheier-Schtanne: meaning “barn stars.” Combining tradition and innovation, Hill’s works bridged the gap between traditional barn art and the contemporary revitalization of Pennsylvania Dutch folk art in the 1950s and 60s. Often credited with having been the very first to produce traditional barn stars on commercial sign board, Hill’s work remained traditional and received national attention through his participation in the Kutztown Folk Festival. Hill’s art continues to inspire new generations of artists who paint his signature design, the “Hill Star,” as a homage to his legacy in the region.

Admission to the exhibition is free to the public. Visitors can explore the exhibition during regular gallery hours 10 a.m. to noon, and 1-4 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the DeLight E. Breidegam Building, 15155 Kutztown Road, Kutztown, PA, 19530. Special extended hours during the Kutztown Folk Festival, July 1-9 only, provide access daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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