June 14, 2008

Baltimore Painted Screens

In Baltimore, a city full of rowhouses, there is a long tradition of painted screens. This dates to the days before central air conditioning and was used to allow people to have their ground floor windows open but not have the inside of the house seen by everyone walking by. As air conditioning became more ubiquitious, the painted screen tradition faded away.
Traditionally, the screens were in working-class neighbourhoods with their rowhouses and lack of greenspaces and trees. The images painted on the windows didn't vary much, usually a red-roofed cottage surrounded by tall firs and cheerful gardens, and a pond in front with several white swans a-swimming.
Last year, my dog Connor, decided he didn't really want to be stuck inside, so one day when I had the windows open and the screens down, he jumped out the window. Twice. The first time, he just pushed the screen out of the frame, but the second time, he shredded it. Because it was summer, I just cranked the A/C and didn't do anything about the screen. But this spring has been so cool, I have been keeping the windows open and needed to have the screen repaired.
I decided that I wanted to try my hand at screen painting, but didn't want to use the tradtional paintings. I found a decorative print element, enlarged it and printed it out on numerous sheets and taped them together. Then I set to painting the screen with a cream background, and then traced the element onto the screen and filled it in. One of the main problems with painting is making sure the holes aren't clogged with paint. After the screen dried, I coated it with several coats of spray varnish and put it in the window.
The lost art of screen painting is being preserved by the Painted Screen Society and there was a recent exhibition of the screens at the American Visionary Arts Museum here in Baltimore.

15 comments:

  1. This looks so great!!!! I love it!! IS one of the other pictures your screen before??? I have to tell you, i like the new updated style - just looks so hip. Great job Meg!!!

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  2. The top photos are "original-style" painted screens.

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  3. Excellent job! That looks great.

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  4. Fascinating! I've never heard of this before. Yours looks so great!

    -Lana

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  5. First blue porch ceilings, now this. Fabulous.

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  6. I noticed this while in baltimore last month!! I didn't realize there was a history of it. It's really quaint and homey -I love it!!!

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  7. Thanks for the comments. It was a lot harder than I thought to do this, but it's great on evenings like this, when it's cool, to have the windows open!

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  8. Did you do the last one? Its lovely.

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  9. LC... I did do the last one. It's very hard, but i think my small effort was worth it! I love having the windows open, so this is a great solution.

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  10. This is what I love about your blog, Meg. So original.

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  11. Well, you just taught me something new. Did not know about the history of the painted screens. You did a great job on yours!

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  12. Nice article. I loved seeing the painted screens in Baltimore rowhouses when I was a child. It's very sad the there’re not many left to see in the City today. It was a great tradition that brought smiles to people's faces. I’m joining the effort to revive the old art of screen painting. See my website: http://www.paintedscreens.synthasite.com/

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  13. love you page and especially your screen.

    I have loved the Baltimore screens since I first discovered them.

    Now I'm adapting it for a Christmas display for our church. Our theme is the Madona and child. What kind of paint did you use?

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  14. I have been painting "contemporary" style screens for 30 years. After an apprenticeship w/ John Oktavec several years ago, I now inject the iconic elements into some of the images- go see the show! You will see how some of us renegades are innovating within the tradition.

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