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The Painted Screens of Baltimore - An Urban Folk Art Revealed

The Painted Screens of Baltimore

An Urban Folk Art Revealed

By Elaine Eff
Series: Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World Series
Hardcover : 9781617038914, 256 pages, 175 b&w and color photographs, October 2013

An exploration of a homegrown tradition of unexpected beauty and privacy


Painted screens have long been synonymous in the popular imagination with the Baltimore row house. Picturesque, practical, and quirky, window and door screens adorned with scenic views simultaneously offer privacy and ventilation in crowded neighborhoods. As an urban folk art, painted screens flourished in Baltimore, though they did not originate there--precursors date to early eighteenth-century London. They were a fixture on fine homes and businesses in Europe and America throughout the Victorian era. But as the handmade screen yielded to industrial production, the whimsical artifact of the elite classes was suddenly transformed into an item for mass consumption. Historic examples are now a rarity, but in Baltimore the folk art is still very much alive.

The Painted Screens of Baltimore takes a first look at this beloved icon of one major American city through the words and images of dozens of self-taught artists who trace their creations to the capable and unlikely brush of one Bohemian immigrant, William Oktavec. In 1913, this corner grocer began a family dynasty inspired generations of artists who continue his craft to this day. The book examines the roots of painted wire cloth, the ethnic communities where painted screens have been at home for a century, and the future of this art form.


An un-ironic (thank God) treasure-trove of amazingly researched information that elevates the most Balto-centric one-time row house kitsch to its proper place in art history.

- John Waters

The Painted Screens of Baltimore: An Urban Folk Art Revealed is a stunningly beautiful book that traces the history of painted screens in Baltimore. Elaine Eff profiles three generations of screen painters and lovingly shows how these artists crafted a unique identity for their city. Eff's majestic portrait of a city, its people, and their art will forever stand as a model study for the fields of American art and folklore.

- William Ferris, author of The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists