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Documenting the Screen Scene: ‘A History of Screen Printing’

(August 2013) posted on Sat Nov 02, 2013

New book explores how an art evolved into an industry.


By Andy MacDougall

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Happy 100th birthday, screenprinting!

Although that’s not technically true, it’s close enough. Not too many manufacturing processes last 100 years in this fast-paced and ever-evolving world. Ours remains endemic in human culture, used in the manufacturing of consumer products from t-shirts to touchscreens and everything in-between, so there’s no danger of it disappearing from use any time soon, regardless of what the digital prophets and their salespeople tell everyone. Ever wonder where and how it all started? There’s a lot more than a few paragraphs on Wikipedia to the story, but there has never been a book on the subject. Until now.

A new book, History of Screen Printing – How an Art Evolved Into an Industry, tells the tale.

Written by Swiss author Guido Lengwiler and available this fall in English from ST Books, it has what is considered to be the first photograph of a screen printing operation, taken in 1913. From this shop, Brant & Garner Studio on Market St. in San Francisco, and a few other pioneers of the new “silk screen process” clustered in California, grew the industries we are all part of today. Concentrating on the period between the late 1800s up to the end of WW II, the book is full of previously unpublished information, stories, and lots of amazing photos. Although this is an historical text, properly cross-referenced with sources, it reads like an adventure novel at times, and has the look of an art book.

The DNA of those first silk-screen shops spread internationally in the 1920s, and found new markets and new uses through the 1930s. It spawned the printed electronics industry and played a significant role in WWII – on all sides. The book traces how it happened, with first-hand accounts uncovered through meticulous research, tracking down and interviewing family members of the pioneers of the process throughout the world.

Connecting thousands of bits of information into a well written narrative is a challenge, but Lengwiler – a teacher of screenprinting – has made sense of it all by painting a clear picture of what came before, and how screenprinting arrived just as the American advertising industry began. One drove the other.


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