Florence Riefle Bahr

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Florence Riefle Bahr
Born Florence Riefle
(1909-02-02)February 2, 1909
Baltimore, Maryland
Died January 12, 1998(1998-01-12) (aged 88)
Elkridge, Maryland
Nationality American
Alma mater Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)
Known for Artist, activism
Spouse(s) Leonard Bahr

Florence Elizabeth Riefle Bahr (February 2, 1909 – January 12, 1998) was an American artist and activist. She made colored portraits of children, monochromatic portraits of adults, and landscapes. More than 300 sketchbooks catalog insights into her life, including her civil and human rights activism of the 1960s and 1970s. Important captured events included the Washington D.C. event where Martin Luther King, Jr. first gave his I Have a Dream speech. Her painting Homage to Martin Luther King hands in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's headquarters. Besides traditional art forms, Bahr also created collages, wood cuts and linocuts. She created illustrations for children's book and made a mural for Johns Hopkins Hospital's Harriet Lane Home for Children. Her works have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions since the 1930s. In 1999 she was posthumously awarded the State of Maryland's Women's Hall of Fame.

Personal life[edit]

Florence Riefle was born in Baltimore, Maryland to parents James Henry Riefle[1] and Florence Riefle.[2] She was the only artist in a musically talented family.[3][4] Bahr grew up in Homeland and Forest Park, Maryland and graduated from Western High School.[5]

She met Leonard Bahr, a portrait painter, who was her teacher at the Maryland Institute. She sat for a portrait that he made of "the lively young woman." In 1934 the couple married and had three children:[4][6][7] Mary, Beth and Leonard, Jr.[6][nb 1] Leonard taught at the Maryland Institute of Art for more than 50 years, and both of his daughters attended the school.[6]

The couple lived in Baltimore in 1936 with their shared studio on the third floor. In an article about her that year, Bahr said that she was mostly interested in her husband and painting; They both "would rather paint than eat." She mentioned a few recreational interests: horseback riding, hiking and swimming.[8]

In 1940 Leonard was teaching art and lived with his wife and daughter, Elizabeth (Beth) in Baltimore.[9] During World War II, Leonard enlisted in the Navy on March 1, 1944 and was released on December 23, 1945.[10][nb 2] In 1947 they moved to Elkridge, Howard County, Maryland[1] and in the 1960s built a house where Leonard and Florence had their own studios. It was located on Lawyer's Hill.[11]

Florence Bahr died in a house fire which also destroyed some, but not all, of her portraits, landscapes and sketches.[3][5][nb 3]

Civil rights[edit]

Concerned about civil and human rights, she became involved in causes for human rights; children's welfare, like breakfasts for inner-city children; women's rights, education and affordable housing. She campaigned for public officials' attention on the issues that concerned her via telephone calls and letter-writing campaigns; participated in political marches and demonstrations; and attended trials. She was arrested at an anti-war demonstration at The Pentagon.[3]

Bahr created drawings in her sketchbook of important events that she witnessed, like the trials of former Governor Marvin Mandel and Catonsville Nine. She also had important images of key national and state marches and demonstrations.[3] She donated more than 300 sketchbooks to the Maryland State Archives.[3]


Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the main hall of the main building.

In 1927 she attended Dickinson College. The next year she enrolled in the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and took an aggressive course schedule to earn a Costume Design diploma in 1930. The following year she earned the James Young Memorial Prize Award and a diploma in Fine Arts education.[1]

She enrolled in 1959 at the Catonsville Community College and in 1962 received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting. She then attended the Maryland Institute where in 1967 she received a Master of Fine Arts in Education and Printmaking.[1]



Bahr created sketches, oil and watercolor paintings, lithographs, sculptures, book illustrations and fiber art. Woodcut and linocuts were also methods she explored. Bahr worked with pastels and inks.[1] Bahr exhibited oil paintings, watercolors, etchings, collages, woodcuts and constructions. She made portraits, still lifes, landscapes and sketches of scenes from her daily life. Her painting of a sunflower was a free and spontaneous work otherwise "reminiscent of Art Nouveau." She made portraits of children, like her grandson Scott Lee, and her daughter, Mary in Red. Her portraits of adults were monochromatic black and white paintings to illustrate the essence of a person's character without "striving for prettiness".[6][11] She worked with multiple media for her collages or woodcuts, often incorporating natural elements, like pebbles, a butterfly, a feather or a pine cone.[6]

From about 1931 to 1936, Bahr wrote and created illustrations for her or other author's children's books; The illustrations were watercolor paintings.[8] She made a mural for the Harriet Lane Home for Children at Johns Hopkins Hospital.[12] Her works were shown in 1935 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, two years later she received her first award from the museum.[3] In 1936 both her and her husband, Leonard's works were shown at the Maryland Institute.[4] She continued to exhibit her works there and receive additional awards. Her portrait of an African American girl, Lily, was shown at the 1936 New York exhibition of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. After having become a member, Bahr created oil paintings with greater frequency.[3][8]

Of the many sketches that Bahr made starting from 1957 to 1992 of her experiences, she captured the Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Washington, D.C. I Have a Dream speech, the Catonsville Nine courtroom trial, a march on The Pentagon, the trial of Governor Marvin Mandel,[4][5] and Robert Kennedy's funeral.[13]

She said she created Homage to Martin Luther King when, "I heard the news on the radio, and I felt like the world was coming to an end. I went up to my studio and poured my anguish and sorrow into the canvas. Homage came straight out of my heart.

Florence Riefle Bahr

She created the Homage to Martin Luther King to help manage her feelings of his death and the resulting riots. It hung in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) Baltimore headquarters; Prior to her death, Bahr had presented it to the organization she worked with in the 1960s and 1970s.[3]

Bahr's art is in private and public collections in Europe, Japan and throughout the United States,[4] including Baltimore Museum of Art who has a color woodcut Indian Girl made in 1969.[14] The Peabody Galleria Piccola held a retrospective exhibit of her works when she was 87 years old.[3]

Antique doll collection[edit]

Bahr collected antique dolls and made more than 200 watercolor portraits of the dolls. She opened a combination museum and store in Ellicott City called the "Humpty Dumpty Dolls and Toys".[1][6]


She participated in solo and group exhibitions:[4]


  • 1936 - Baltimore Museum of Art Print Club Purchase Prize[1]
  • 1952 - Baltimore Museum of Art All Maryland Show[1]
  • 1968 - Maryland Institute Alumni F. Weber Award[1]
  • 1968 - Maryland Arts Council Selection, Second Annual Maryland Artists Today traveling show[4]
  • 1969 - Loyola College Baltimore Outdoor Show Purchase Prize[1]
  • 1971 - Second place prize in watercolors in the Constellation Art Contest[1]
  • 1999 - Posthumously inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame[1][3]


In her book :Women of Achievement in Maryland History, Carolyn Stegman wrote:

Florence Bahr captured some striking images in her day, and her work remains important. She had a curious eye, a compassionate heart, a dogged determination, and an undying passion for portraying life in twentieth-century America. Frequently described as a 'Renaissance woman,' she was a diverse role model. Artist, feminist, environmentalist, consummate social activist – Florence Bahr gave her all to make the world a better place.[15]


  1. ^ In 1982, Leonard, Jr. was an artist, author and Marine biologist who performed research and taught at Louisiana State University, Mary was an abstract artist who worked at Johns Hopkins University's film department, and Beth was a gourmet cook and homemaker. The children were given artistic freedom to draw on their bedroom walls. Horses were painted on the ceiling of Mary's bedroom by her father.[6]
  2. ^ For Leonard Bahr, born May 12, 1905 and died July 25, 1990.[10]
  3. ^ She had summoned for help at 7:30 a.m. using a device that allowed a neighbor to be altered, the neighbor and then the fire department were unable to enter the building because of the thick smoke and raging fire.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Florence Riefle Bahr. Record: MSA SC 3520-13553. Maryland State Archives. June 26, 2008. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  2. ^ 1930 Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: 869; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0518 United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Florence Riefle Bahr. Maryland Women's Hall of Fame, Maryland State Archives. Retrieved January 24, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Florence Riefle Bahr. Maryland State Archives. Retrieved January 24, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d Del Quentin Wilbur. "Artist Dies in Elkridge Fire: Florence Bahr's Home Destroyed in Two Alarm Blaze." The Baltimore Sun. January 13, 1998.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Jack Dawson, "A Family of Artists." The Sun Magazine, January 10, 1982.
  7. ^ Florence, Special Collections. Maryland State Archives. Retrieved January 25, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c "Painter in a Musical Family Would Rather Draw Than Eat." The Baltimore Sun, June 29, 1936.
  9. ^ 1940 Baltimore, Baltimore City, Maryland census. Roll: T627_1524; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 4-400. United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. T627, 4,643 rolls.
  10. ^ a b Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
  11. ^ a b Robert G. Breen. A Versatile Artist. Published between 1962 and 1967. Image of the article accessed from the Maryland State Archives. Retrieved January 24, 2014.
  12. ^ Who's who in American Art. R. R. Bowker.; 1935. p. 31.
  13. ^ The Archivists' Bulldog Vol. 11 No. 8, Newsletter of the Maryland State Archives, April 28, 1997 Maryland State Archives. Retrieved January 25, 2014.
  14. ^ Donors: Gifts of Art. Baltimore Museum of Art. Retrieved January 24, 2014.
  15. ^ Carolyn B. Stegman. Women of Achievement in Maryland History. Women of Achievement in Maryland History, Incorporated; 2002. ISBN 978-0-9724362-0-5.

Further reading[edit]

In addition, The Maryland State Archives (Florence R. Bahr), The Maryland Historical Society, the Elkridge Heritage Society, and the Enoch Pratt Library hold records of her life and work.