Sunday Morning: Screen Gems
Jan Crawford took Sunday Morning cameras on a walking tour of Baltimore, Maryland, home to the art of painted window screens. Landscapes may feature a house, a lake, and trees. But painted window screens are a unique art that dates back a century and made the town seem like “an outdoor museum,” according to one local artist who grew up there. (I don’t remember this from The Wire.)
At one time, they could be seen on nearly every rowhouse in the city. It was a point for pride for residents and a reminder that people of diverse ethnic backgrounds were neighbors, according to Elaine Eff, a native of the city who is an expert on this folk art, founding the Painted Screen Society in 1985.
Eff is also the author of The Painted Screens of Baltimore: An Urban Folk Art Revealed, and she produced a documentary about the art, The Screen Painters. The 1988 film featured residents speaking with pride about the artwork and noting that it’s nicer to look at than plain black screens.
CBS Sunday Morning: History of Painted Screens
Eff traced the mesh art back to 1913, when a Czechoslovakian grocer would advertise his offerings on his screen doors, because leaving it out in the elements would cause it to spoil. Painted screens allowed air to flow through without letting passersby see inside, which was important in areas where there were few trees.
Tom Lipka, age 78, may be the last master of this art form. He is a retired transportation technician who paints screens. He had an aptitude for the art, and he has been painting screens since age 10. He first charged 50 cents per screen.
What’s even more interesting is that from the inside, you can barely see the art on the screen that everyone passing by would see. Sylvia Sherman grew up with the screens in the 1960s, recalling the pastoral scenes. When air conditioners became more popular, this art form began to decline.
Sunday Morning: Preserving Painted Screens in Baltimore
Eff and others are pushing to preserve this unique tradition. “We’re really losing the community, because everything is being upgraded instead of trying to keep it,” Sherman said.
Modern Baltimore artists are returning to the canvas of the screen. The paintings on screens have become more personalized, and artists like Lipka are hoping to pass the paintbrush, because he said almost anyone can do this type of painting. His goal is simply to leave something beautiful behind. I never had any idea about this innovative type of art, but I hope it continues to thrive in Baltimore.