Review By Christopher Bilardi
I am C.R. Bilardi, author the "The Red Church, the Art of Pennsylvania German Braucherei" .
At the time I wrote my own book in 2009, which is the same year as the author's first work "The Backdoor Hexologist" , I was quite sceptical concerning any esoteric meaning assigned to the 'barn' or 'hex' signs. This changed with my reading of Patrick Donmoyer's "Hex Signs: Myth and Meaning in Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Stars" (2013). The saying regarding this folk art is often "Yuscht fa Schay", that is, "Just for nice." Of course , I knew of the basic exoteric meanings of the signs such as the Double Distelfink (good luck), and so on. It was the mystical and even magical meanings in which I was in doubt as a result of the academic materials I possessed at the time.
Anyone familiar with the subject will know of barn sign artists such as William Schuster, Jacob Zook, Eric Claypoole, and the most well known Johnny Ott. I know that I'm missing a few in the list. It was Ott who was the first to call what he did as "Hexology", and those (such as in my research) who accused Ott of creating " superstitious meanings " to the signs whilst being a shrewd businessman. Whatever the ultimate truth of the matter, Ott was a true master of his craft. It is my opinion that Yoder has successfully taken up the title of Hexologist, making it his own, and is the natural heir to the craft of Mr Johnny Ott.
As a previous reviewer noted, "Hex Signs as Sacred Space" contains little text, most of which is found in the beginning where Yoder writes a basic CV of his work as an artist in "Conceptual Art". The bulk of the book is filled with high grade, quality photographs of his work which are sometimes found along side with historical pieces of sgraffito. With each photo one can see the quality of Yoder's craft. What will be noticed, for those who have never seen his style, is the incorporation of the Northern European (Germanic and Scandinavian) Runic symbols/alphabet, the Elder Futhark and galdrastafir (magic letters), and Norse bindrunes. As far as I know, the author is the first Hexologist to combine the beauty of geometry with the equally angular Runes. The Runes were used as both a writing and numerical system, and magical, esoteric figures. In this way Yoder's work is unique, and as he wrote to me some time ago, it is something both new and old. With each photo is a brief description of the meaning and intent of each piece. If one is interested in ancient Norse/Germanic religions, magic, and the simple aesthetics of the old barn stars, please do treat yourself to a copy. The quality photography is worth the price alone.
Also, please see Hunter M. Yoder's other offerings: "Der Volkschpiggel" and "Der Zauberschpiggel". Both of these are thick volumes and written in an anthology style.