Screen Painting - History

Highlandtown. Canton. Fell's Point. These are the neighborhoods that encompass East Baltimore. Marble steps. Formstone houses. Screen paintings. This is what makes the neighborhoods of East Baltimore unique.

Screen painting is a unique and traditional folk art that began in Baltimore in 1913 by William Octavec. He was a Czekoslovakian immigrant who came to Baltimore to make a new life for himself. How lucky we are that he chose Baltimore as his home and brought us this unusual form of art. Screen painting is exactly what it says, painting on screens. Octavec owned a grocery store in East Baltimore, and was frustrated because the sun would shine in the window and spoil his vegetables, so he needed a solution. He decided to paint his window screen. This prevented the sun from shining strongly on his vegetables.

Painting window screens quickly caught on in the neighborhood. People asked Octavec to paint their screens because once the screen was painted, you couldn't see through to the inside, yet you could see out the window. The local people started having their front windows and doors painted to provide privacy from people walking down the sidewalks and peering in the windows.

The painted screens also provided an escape for these city dwellers. The growing number of artists began the tradition of painting a scene that is referred to as the red roof bungalow. It is a white cottage set in the woods, with a lake and swan, and the traditional red roof. These scenes were a way of beautifying an otherwise drab brick and concrete city neighborhood. They brought color to the streets and a dream of that country get away in the mountains.

As the number of artists painting screens increased, so did the styles and scenes they created. People began painting local landmarks, such as churches and buildings as well as mountain scenes and more recently lighthouses that reflect the changing neighborhood.


Some of the "founding" artists were: William Octavec, Ben Richardson, and Johnny Eck. Today, Tom Lipka, Elaine Eff, Dee Herget and Stacey Grabowski are some of the few reamining artists that still paint screens.


Screen artists are striving to keep a dying art alive. As younger people are moving into neighborhoods that once were inhabited by Polish, German and Irish immigrants, the art is becoming extinct. The traditional red roof bungalow screen painting does not appeal to the tastes of young aspiring lawyers, sales people, students and couples. One artist, Stacey Grabowski is doing her best to appeal to the younger generation. She is painting more modern looking screens using the style of a Frank Lloyd Wright window, and painting screens that match the already existing stained glass windows found in the homes of East Baltimore.

Links of Interest

Tom Lipka: Local Baltimore screen painter

Screen Scenes
Baltimore, MD
United States