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A New Jersey native takes on a Baltimore tradition

Meet one artist who has taken the screen painting tradition to new levels.

"I was wondering what those odd-looking screens were in the basement of a house I just bought in Canton," said Stacey Grabowski, recalling her encounter with screen paintings six years ago.

This New Jersey native, new to the city of Baltimore, took action and found out that the unique paintings left in her house by previous owners were called screen paintings. She later took a class from Dee Herget, a screen painter since 1977, at the Canton library to learn how to paint screens herself.

After learning the history and technique of screen painting, Grabowski started her own little screen painting business with Herget and artist Tom Lipka as her inspiration. However, she quickly found out that screen painting doesn't pay the bills.

"Since it is a folk art, you don't get much money to paint them."

Lack of income hasn't stopped Grabowski from continuing her craft and passing it on, though. In fact, she has received e-mails from people around the country wanting to know how to paint screens.

Also, she hasn't forgotten about her home state of New Jersey.

"I have brought the art to New Jersey. I have painted my parent's side door, and once their neighbors saw it, everyone wanted one. So I have painted several in New Jersey."

Not only has Grabowski taken the tradition to another state, she also came up with a style all her own in hopes that her art would appeal to the younger generation.

Her style is painting modern looking screens using the style of a Frank Lloyd Wright window. She also likes painting screens that match the already existing windows found in the homes of East Baltimore.

"Personally, I like to paint my screens to look like stained glass so that they match a lot of the stained glass windows already in the older homes in Canton. But people still like the traditional 'red roofed bungalow.' I thought the stained glass look might appeal to the younger crowd and be a way to keep the art alive."

Unfortunately, Grabowski has been too busy to paint many window screens, but for the sake of the art, she continues to paint a few upon request.

"I have moved into a new house, and don't have the studio space I used to. But if someone asks, I will find a way to paint one to keep the tradition alive."

Even though Grabowski isn't a Baltimore native and didn't live in Baltimore in its heyday, she is still determined to do her part in keeping a dying art alive.

"As younger people are moving into neighborhoods that once were inhabited by Polish, German and Irish immigrants, the art is becoming extinct. The traditional red roof bungalow screen painting does not appeal to the tastes of young people anymore. Fortunately there are a few artists, like myself, who will keep the tradition going as long as we can."

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