“A true folk art is of and for the community,” says Elaine Eff, founder of the Baltimore Painted Screen Society. “Screen painting has always been an East Baltimore art form.”
Eff, who lives in Northwest Baltimore, says she first became interested in screen painting as a graduate student in the 1970s and fell in love with it.
“I don’t paint screens myself,” Eff says. “I’m a folklorist.”
According to the Painted Screen Society, screen painting was invented in Baltimore by William Oktavec, a Czech grocer, in 1913.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the creation of the art form, the Painted Screen Society and the Highlandtown Main Street Program came up with the idea for “100 Screens for 100 Years on Highlandtown Main Street.”
The project was funded through a grant by the Baltimore Community Foundation.
“That grant is for screens to appear along businesses Eastern Ave. from East Ave. to Conkling St.,” says Amanda Smit-Peters, manager of Highlandtown Main Street. “What could be a more appropriate art form for Highlandtown businesses than painted screens along Eastern Ave.?”
Last Wednesday, the Southeast Community Development Corporation, Highlandtown Main Street, Painted Screen Society, and local merchants had an unveiling of the Highlandtown Gateway Screens at the corner of S. Conkling and Eastern Ave. above the pawn shop, Southeast Jewelry & Loan.
The Gateway Screens, painted by Anna Pasqualucci and John Oktavec—grandson of William—show iconic and whimsical Baltimore images such as the Baltimore Orioles, beehive hairdos, steamed blue crabs, and ravens in the beehive. The seven screens spell out the word “WELCOME.”
“They are about Highlandtown, our homes, and our history,” says Smit-Peters.
Highlandtown artist and screen painter Monica Broere gave screen painting lessons to the kick-off attendees, and Baltimore County screen painter Bruce Barrett, who shows his work at the Northpoint Flea Market, told attendees about his work, some of which was on display.
“I’ve been doing airbrush work for 20 years, but on the screens I use a paintbrush and I paint the screens like they are cavases,” Barrett says.
About 50 of the 100 painted screens will be installed in time for a June 15 tour—on that day, the Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival will be held at the Creative Alliance, and will feature a free walking tour of the painted screens on Eastern Ave., says Smith-Peters.
“Our goal is to have the other 50 installed by the end of June,” she adds.
Several local business and organizations are involved in the 100 Screens Project, including Spartan Pizza and Cardinal Chiropractic, both on Conkling St., says Smit-Peters, who adds that one of her favorite local merchant screens is on the Liberty Tax Building on Eastern Ave.
“It shows how a painted screen can tie a building together,” Smit-Peters says.
“But honestly, it doesn’t end with 100,” she adds. “This is just a kickoff. We really would like to see more people learn the art form. We want to inspire artists. I think 100 is just the beginning. More painted screens are definitely coming to Highlandtown.”
Says Neff: “That’s wonderful. Painted screens have been a part of East Baltimore for a long time and I very much hope they will continue to be.”
Several screen painting events are coming up within the next few weeks. On June 20, at 7:30 p.m., the Creative Alliance will show the film “The Screen Painters,” which debuted at the Patterson theater 25 years ago. It is double billed with “Little Castles,” a film about formstone in Baltimore. Film tickets are $12 ($7 for Creative Alliance members). On June 22, at 9:30 a.m., Eff will lead the Painted Screens Pilgrimage, a bus and walking tour of Baltimore screen painting landmarks. Tickets are $35 ($30 for Creative Alliance members). Info: www.creativealliance.org and www.paintedscreens.org.
by Danielle Sweeney