Now I know we are a home improvement, remodeling, home repair … ish type website, but every now and then there is occasion (despite Google’s penalties) to stray outside that core group of topics. I know too that for the most part we entertain a national audience, but yep – every now and then something local here in Baltimore strikes me as worth a share. Enter Baltimore’s Hand-Painted House Screens.

painted screen in powder room

For any visitor that may happen to use our guest bathroom, this screen just propped against the wall may seem like an odd decorating choice. More odd if that visitor happens also not to be from Baltimore.

woman brick rowhome with painted screen

The screen above was my grandmother’s, my dad’s mom, and she passed in 2012. It was installed in her basement window slider. Strange to me and to Mrs. Moxie – that when going through the house and the remainder of my grandmother’s belongings (those outside the formal estate) that none of my cousins had claimed it.  We scooped it up.

For now, it sits just as such in our powder room until we can figure what to do with it more permanently. While a nice reminder of my “Busc”, I mean- I have always known the painted screen as part of the fabric of East Baltimore – from where my dad originates. An object both quirky, but important.

Well, some of you may know, my friends on Facebook I guess – that my dad recently published a book. Seven years of work, likely more years of research and yes, I acted as one of the editors on it. Called Bardzo Dobry, it is a sort of history of Baltimore’s Polish community, the groups especially centered around East Baltimore, the neighborhoods of Fells Point and Canton. Canton’s skyline is featured in the header of our weekly email and Yep, you guessed it – “Bartkowiak” – I’m a proud, card-carrying polock.

Painted Screens of Baltimore by Elaine EffNow, a funny thing happened. My dad on publishing the book, and like most authors, did a few local book signings. For one, he was paired with a woman named Elaine Eff– her book and signing, guess what? “The Painted Screens of Baltimore, an Urban Folk Art Revealed.”

For me & Mrs. Moxie, she inscribed a copy. The inscription reads – “Baltimore is best. Never forget how lucky we are to live in this beautiful and authentic city.” (As not really the purpose of this post, you can find a review of it in our Baltimore Magazine, here.)

In her book, Eff traces this art to London two centuries earlier where landscapes were painted on a wire mesh. While it spread and in a trickle made its way to screen doors of country stores and urban markets in the south, it was Baltimore in the early 20th century who fully embraced the form.

Eff calls the phenomenon, “A practical amenity for a densely built man-made environment.” And one of those wonderfully practical aspects, especially in the age prior to air conditioning, as Eff points out – “You see out, but noone sees in.” Most commonly, pastoral scenes too provide a strong counter point to the rolling concrete blocks of Baltimore’s east side. Many, still scattered around town.

I myself reference them in an article for Arne Salveson’s Useful Spaces, my article and unfamiliar with Eff’s work at the time, Pink Flamingos, Blue Crabs and the Overspilling of Kitsch in Baltimore.

formstone rowhome with painted screens

images:

by Erick Hoopes

via About.com by Laureen Miles Brunelli

(As far as rowhomes and that formstone, I written about them several times here.)

The book itself is a fantastic resource containing anything you’d ever want to know about the practice, including how-tos from revered artists, profiles of those artists, plus of course many fine examples. My red bungalow above, while not from anyone I could identify in the book, is likely the single most prolific subject.

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As a kinda geek on history, I am most notably drawn to, well, the history that Eff provides more generally on the window screen itself.  She points out that at the turn of the 20th century window screens were only available to the most wealthy Americans – a woven wire cloth. In advertisements from the time, they were, as Eff says, portrayed as a “miracle of the era” – providing air without flies and mosquitoes.

If interested you can purchase Elaine Eff’s book on Amazon, here >> The Painted Screens of Baltimore.

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For more information, and celebrating 101 years, The Painted Screen Society of Baltimore. Thanks for reading. ~jb