A vibrant Baltimore folk art tradition, screen painting can trace its roots back to a single instance of creative marketing on North Collington Avenue in 1913. Bohemian immigrant and grocer William Oktavec needed to take his produce out of the sun, so he depicted meats and vegetables on his shop’s window screens instead.
While his granddaughter concedes that Oktavec was “looking for a novelty” that would attract customers to his store, the screen painting trend began organically. Oktavec’s neighbor asked him for a painted screen that reminded her of the Bohemian countryside.
After two more years in the grocery business, Oktavec opened the Art Store on East Monument Street, and brought his quirky art form to Baltimore at large.
Thanks to the passion of the Painted Screen Society and local folklorist Elaine Eff, Baltimore has held on to its screen painting tradition, with a book celebrating the practice coming out in December, along with an art show at MICA and plenty of hand-rendered Ravens logos and Mr. Bohs continuing to keep bugs out of rowhomes.
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