Beating the heat, SE Baltimore-style!
July 3, 2014 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Row houses fill the streets of southeast Baltimore. Before air conditioning, there was little privacy and a lot of heat in the narrow, brick-lined streets. A green grocer accidentally found a solution.

William Oktavec painted fruits and vegetables on his screens and moved his wares inside, out of the sun. Neighbours noticed that you couldn't see through the painted screens to the inside of the store, but you could see out. Plus painted screens didn't block airflow.

The most traditional design is the white bungalow on a lake. Lighthouses were also popular. Modern screen painters will paint just about anything on a screen, though.

The Painted Screen Society of Baltimore has produced a documentary, gives classes and generally tries to keep the art alive. If you are visiting Baltimore, the American Visionary Art Museum has a good display of painted screens and has a documentary (which includes interviews with screen painter and sideshow man Johnny Eck) on continuous loop.
posted by QIbHom (10 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
My town of adjacent triple deckers could use these too. I wonder how much it would cost to buy a screen for the apartment...
posted by maryr at 9:12 AM on July 3, 2014

So, these are interesting, but there's one part of the story I don't get: why would a greengrocer care that you could see into his store when it's open for business?
posted by yoink at 9:17 AM on July 3, 2014

why would a greengrocer care that you could see into his store when it's open for business?

Not being able to see in was an unintended consequence of painting the screens with the goods he was selling, which people could see.
posted by rtha at 9:20 AM on July 3, 2014

yoink, his wares were rotting quickly on the street, so he moved them inside and painted fruits and veggies on the screen to show what he sold. It was customers who noticed you couldn't see in and wanted the privacy.
posted by QIbHom at 9:21 AM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

So, an interesting paradox: man invents opaque screen while trying to overcome the problem of the screen's opacity.
posted by yoink at 9:25 AM on July 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I saw a bunch of these last winter at The Museum of Visionary Art in Baltimore. One of those things that made me fall in love with the city that much more.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:41 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Glad this post wasn't about opening fire hydrants. Also, sitting on marble stoops is another Baltimore summer cooling tradition.
posted by jetsetsc at 11:24 AM on July 3, 2014

The timing of this post is cracking me up - my partner was just this morning telling me all about his childhood memories of painted screens, and we were trying to figure out if they were specifically a Baltimore thing. Apparently so!
posted by Stacey at 1:51 PM on July 3, 2014

Here's where I get to brag on the gorgeous Baltimore screen work of my lovely friend and amazing costumer, Jenny Campbell, whose definitively remixed painted screen dresses and NparticularlySFW screen paintings are just…oh my.
posted by sonascope at 5:13 PM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

William Oktavec painted the front doors of his shop with the meat and produce he sold inside.

That just confused the hell out of me.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:43 PM on July 3, 2014

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