The Story Behind Baltimore’s Painted Screens~
Baltimore is known for its painted screens.
The tradition of painting door and window screens for decoration and privacy began in 1913 in Baltimore when William Oktavec moved to the city from Newark, New Jersey. He had painted his first window screen while on the job at Eclipse Air Brush Company in New Jersey for a secretary whose work was often disturbed by people on the sidewalk outside her office. With the newly painted screen, the secretary could see out, but no one could see in.
In Baltimore, Oktavec painted a screen to shade the fruit at his corner grocery store at North Collington and Ashland Avenue. Before long, he began to get requests for painted screens, and others in neighboring ethnic communities started to join in the tradition. By the 1930s, East Baltimore row houses sported almost 100,000 painted door and window screens. Today this folk art tradition is declining. It is estimated there are less than 3,000 painted screens in Baltimore.