History of Baltimore Screen Painting
I first became aware of screen painting while searching the internet for stencil designs to paint the screen door of my retail store. What I found was a Folk Art style of painting that originated in Baltimore and to my dismay found that this art form was slowly dying because the original screen painters were aging and there were not enough artists taking on this early form of Folk Art.
Coarse wire netting is reported to have been made in Germany in the seventeenth century. This heavy mesh was usually used to keep out rodents and other critters. Finer mesh called mosquito netting was tacked on to window frames as well as suspended over beds and food to keep out insects. When fine wire mesh window screen came along it was an mmediate success. Gilberr, Bennett and Company a manufacturer of wire-mesh sieves had an over supply of wire cloth. In 1861 they painted it gray and offered it as window screening. Not long after the introduction of the gray screening came decorated screens and window shades. E.T. Barnum Company of Detroit advertised painted screens that were sold by the square foot in 1874.
Painted window screens appeared in Baltimore Maryland in the early nineteen hundreds. William Octovec a Czecho-slovakian immigrant is credited for it's birth in ithe Baltimore area. He studied commercial art and drawing at night school and during the day worked for a company as a demonstrator for an airbrush. In 1913 he moved to Baltimore hoping to oopen an art supply store. It failed and he opened a grocery store instead.
Dismayed that his display of produce was witlting in the hear of the summer he brought it into the store and then painted pictures of the produce he carried onto the store's window screens. Baltimore Screen painting was born.
People soon realized not only did the painted screens decorate the windows but they also provided some privacy. Soon a thriving business started and many of the houses displayed the paintd screens on their windows. During the day the lovely designs could be viewed from outside however people were not able to see into the home and the screen still provided the necessary air circulation while also allowing the homeowner to look out. Of course when the lights went on in the evening the drapes had to be drawn because people could again see into the home. It has been calculated that at one time there were as many as 100,000 screens in the Baltimore area. Today very few remain.