Joseph T. Slechter, 93, Baltimore screen painter

January 28, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Joseph Thomas Slechter never considered screen painting to be trendy or down-home or Baltimore kitsch. He thought of his unique painting medium as a sure way to make extra cash.

Mr. Slechter, who died Sunday of heart failure at his Perry Hall home, was one of the early Baltimore screen painters in the 1920s, when he began the quaint folk art that has remained popular locally, especially in east side communities. He was 93.

Mr. Slechter was known for his plain but colorful screen paintings, usually a farm setting with a red barn or a red house, or of a lake with swans and ducks. Many of his works decorate homes in Highlandtown, Canton and near Patterson Park.

"He was always an artist, but this was something that required real technique," said his daughter, Jean Marie Petts of Lutherville. "He studied art, but this [screen painting] was a certain inborn talent."

Relatives and friends said Mr. Slechter enjoyed the often-tedious work of screen painting, where painted scenes are applied to the outside of a screen.

The difficult part of his craft was getting the paint only on the screen's wire and not covering its pores.

"He put a lot of time into his work because not only was it hard, but he was more precise, more particular than probably most others," said Joyce Klein, a Canton resident who has screens Mr. Slechter painted 50 years ago.

"He was known for his exactness, his eye for the detail -- every detail. His screens were an exact replica of a scene."

Elaine Eff, director of the Screen Painters Society of Baltimore, said Mr. Slechter was one of eight screen painters who had roles in the documentary "The Screen Painters," made in 1988 and seen numerous times on public television over the years.

"He was very serious, very meticulous," she said.

Mr. Slechter was also a skilled canvas and Masonite painter, as well as a talented woodworker. His special interest was in wood graining, where a comb-like instrument with blades makes a pattern on furniture.

Raised in Northeast Baltimore, Mr. Slechter graduated from the old St. Wenceslaus School in East Baltimore. Years later, he enrolled at Maryland Institute, College of Art, graduating in 1972.

He worked briefly as a pressman for the old New Idea Press Co. in the early 1930s before beginning work as a printer and compositor for The Baltimore Sun in 1936. Other duties at the newspaper included repairing Linotype machines and setting color advertisements. He retired in 1971.

He began screen painting to supplement his income from the newspaper, which was not always steady.

"He'd work a few days and get laid off. He needed the money and the screen painting was becoming popular," said his son, Richard J. Slechter of Westminster. "He was good, and it earned him some money."

In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by his wife, the former Marie Agnes Major, whom he married in 1928; three grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Lemmon Funeral Home, 10 W. Padonia Road in Timonium.

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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