What is a Window Screen?

C. Ausbrooks

A window screen is stretched in a frame of metal or wood and used to cover the opening of a window. Materials such as metal, fiberglass or synthetic mesh are used to form the screen. The primary function is to keep insects, leaves, and other debris outside of an enclosed structure, while permitting air to flow freely.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Window screens were first introduced in New England in 1861, by Gilberr, Bennett and Company. The company produced wire mesh sieves for food processing and soon realized that the wire fabric could be painted and used as a window screen. The product was a huge success and other companies soon followed in the manufacture of window screens, making them readily available to consumers.

Window screens are most useful in areas which have large populations of insects, particularly mosquitoes and other parasites. Canadian, Australian and American homes typically have window screens installed on most windows. In cold climates, screens have often been replaced with storm windows. Combination frames consisting of both screens and storm windows have recently become popular in cold areas.

Aluminum frames are the most common type used for constructing window screens. The screen is laid over the frame and then a flexible cord is used to press the screen into a channel on each side of the frame. This method effectively and securely attaches the window screen to the frame.

Wooden frames are also popular for window screen construction. In this case, the screen is pulled tight, and then stapled or tacked into place. A wooden molding is attached with nails to cover the rough edge of the screen. This prevents injury and increases aesthetic appeal.

The type of material used to make a window screen is dependent upon its purpose. For keeping insects at bay, aluminum, fiberglass and bronze are most often used. Copper, stainless steel and brass are also effective for insect screening, but are less commonly used.

When a window screen of greater strength is needed, nylon or polyester may be used as a screen fabric. These materials are usually found in screen doors, screened porches or larger screened windows. Do-it-yourself screen replacement kits often feature nylon screening fabric, even when used for smaller frames.

Window screen painting is a form of folk art that has become popular in recent years. It first appeared near Baltimore, Maryland, in the early 1900s. Czechoslovakian immigrant William Octovec is credited for creating the art form in New England. He began by painting pictures of the produce he carried in his small grocery store onto the screens in the windows.

Soon, homes and businesses throughout the area were displaying painted window screens. It is believed that at one time, more than 100,000 painted screens were present in Baltimore alone, although very few remain today. In modern times, the art has been revived by folk art enthusiasts around the world.

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Several contemporary screen painters still carry on the old Baltimore folk art of painting window screens. Anna's Painted Screens creates a window screen art for your home. You can visit my website to see examples of the art and learn more about the history of screen painting, how to paint your own screen, and most everything you always wanted to know about this Maryland tradition.

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