Silk Screening History

History in Asia

Silk Screening, also referred to as Silk-Screen Printing or Serigraphy, has been utilized for centuries throughout the world. Serigraphy comes from the Latin word “seri” meaning silk and the Greek word “graphein” meaning to draw. Though not officially considered to be the origin, the earliest story of silk screening comes from a tale in Polynesia where it’s people cut banana leaves and pushed ink through it to create a specially printed cloth called Tapa. However, silk screening formally originates during the Chinese Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD). With remarkable mastery, Chinese artists of the time created special masks (matrixes) which consisted of small pieces glued together using human hair to allow ink to pass. This unique technique was then adopted and further developed by the Japanese who became one of the first Asian countries to make recognizable screen printing artwork. They too created stencils out of cut paper and woven mesh made from human hair. At the World's Fair, Japanese textiles including their silk screened fabric became such a success that artisans from England and France respectively began to use silk screening. 

History in Europe

In the 17th century, France had begun to practice silk using silk screens leading to the practice of stretching silk over a frame to support stencils. However, it was not until the 18th century that silk screening had found its way to the rest of the European continent though it did not gain as high of a popularity until the 19th century when silk mesh trading with Asia became more available. Within the early 1900’s the squeegee tool was created to pull ink through the screen mesh, a far more modern and easier method to stiff brushes. The revolution of the screen printing commercial industry then began to form and build its foundation through Roy Beck, Charles Peter, and Edward Owens through the introduction of photo-imaged stencils. It was due to these three men that in 1938 the National Serigraph Society was created with members such as Max Arthur Cohn and Anthony Velonis. The National Serigraph Society was the first to coin the term Serigraphy so as to differentiate themselves and their artistic techniques from their commercial, industrial processed counterparts. Interestingly enough, the first “modern” screen printing was in 1907 and patented by Samuel Simon, a man from England. His method, considered to be the standard in Europe at the time, utilized a stencil drawn onto a bolting cloth that was then stretched across a wooden frame. His products, unique to the time, were only affordable to the wealthy.  

History from the 1960s to Today

Now we approach modern times and more specifically, the Pop Artist era of the 1960s headed by such popular artists as Peter Blake, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg. Through their works using serigraphy it led to the booming use of it as a medium for the creation of contemporary artworks. A popular example is Andy Warhol’s 1962 Marilyn Diptych, a famous silk screen print of Marilyn Monroe from her 1953 film Niagara. In addition to contemporary artworks, silk screening began to grow in the commercial, industrial sector. In 1960, American entrepreneur, artist, and inventor Michael Vasilantone created, developed, used, and sold a rotatable multi-color garment screen printing machine. This became the standard form of machinery that by the time the patent had been released, an industrial boom for printed t-shirts occurred and nearly half of the United States’ screen printing activity was completed using Vasilantone’s machine.

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