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Keeping the tradition alive

Meet one artist who is determined to pass on the screen painting tradition.

"Most names have been forgotten, but their art lives on via hundreds of painted screens," said screen painter Tom Lipka while teaching his Thursday night screen painting class at Overlea High School in Baltimore.

"It has also been said that screen painting is a dying art," he continued. "Not true, it was the screen painters who were dying. But there are still a few of us left and I'm still around to prove it."

Lipka began painting window screens in 1945 to earn spending money when he was 10 years old. Alonzo Parks, a screen painter who frequented Canton every summer, inspired him to take up the art.

"My mother was also looking for ways to keep me out of trouble," he said. "She would give me $2, and off I went to the hardware store to buy paints and brushes."

Lipka's screens were recognized and requested throughout the city, but in 1954 his services were needed in the military. He had to set aside screen painting to serve his country.

"After I was discharged from the Air Force in 1958, I returned home to find out that screen painting had fallen on hard times," Lipka said. "This was mainly because after World War II air conditioners and jolousie type window screens and doors became popular and were inexpensive."

Regardless of the number of clients a screen painter has, Lipka says that you can't make a living off of screen painting. So after marrying in 1959 and starting a family, his love of painting had to be traded in for a steady job at Baltimore's Department of Transit and Traffic.

Fortunately, Lipka was able to dust off his paintbrushes in the 1990s after retiring from his city job. His painting has almost blossomed into another full-time job. He has also kept busy as a screen painting teacher for Baltimore County Community College.

"Even though I don't have a lot of time to paint for myself with family obligations and teaching, just helping to revive and spread the art of screen painting makes it all worthwhile."

Lipka has appeared in numerous articles about screen painting, including an appearance in an article in Parade magazine about young and old screen painters. He was also featured in The Screen Painters , a film made by the Painted Screen Society to educate people about the unique art.

Today, Lipka, Dee Herget and Stacey Grabowski are among the few remaining artists that paint screens, and they are all determined to keep the Baltimore tradition of screen painting alive.

"Someday Baltimore may again be an outdoor museum," Lipka said, "and not the murder capital of the world."

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