BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore is known for its row houses — modest brick buildings lining sidewalks so narrow, you can see right through the front windows into people's homes.
To add privacy, window screens were sometimes painted over with pictures of idyllic rural scenes: red-roofed cottages with winding paths and ponds with swans. In their mid-20th century heyday, painted screens might have covered 200,000 windows around Baltimore, according to Elaine Eff, author of "The Painted Screens of Baltimore."
"They used to be everywhere," she said. "It was the coolest thing. Every house might have a dozen painted screens."
Now Eff and others in Baltimore, from artists to community development groups, are reviving this simple urban folk art. In some neighborhoods, businesses hire artists to create customized screens for storefronts. You can also find the occasional vintage screen in a window on a quiet street, faded but attesting to the tradition's authenticity. If you're inside a house, you can see out through the screens; you just can't see in from the street.
Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum has a permanent exhibit about painted screens with a documentary and re-creation of a row house. The Painted Screen Society of Baltimore — http://paintedscreens.org/ — hosts events promoting the art, sells a $5 map of where to find screens and can arrange customized tours. Or go hunting on your own along Elliot Street in the Canton neighborhood between Conkling and Linwood, or on Eastern Avenue in the vicinity of Gough Street in Highlandtown http://www.southeastcdc.org/painted-screens/ . You can buy ready-made hand-painted screens at Razzo, a home decor store in Hampden (911 W. 36th St.), or for do-it-yourselfers, the Painted Screen Society sells a how-to DVD.
Eff says there are about 1,000 painted screens in homes now, and credits the centennial of the tradition, marked last year, with revitalizing the custom. "It's growing, and that's the beauty of it," Eff said.
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