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Florence Elizabeth Riefle Bahr (February 2, 1909 – January 12, 1998) was a prolific artist and activist throughout her life. Early in her career, she was quoted as saying, "I'd rather paint than eat."

Florence, of German descent, was born in Baltimore City to parents James Henry Riefle and Florence Shafer. She was the great granddaughter of Henry Ferdinand Riefle, granddaughter of both Henry Francis Riefle and Jacob Conrad Shafer, and the niece of Norman T.A. Munder, a well-known Baltimore printer. Florence grew up in the Liberty Road/Park Heights neighborhood, and in her teenage years, the family moved to Homeland. She was the first daughter of six siblings, and though raised in a musically talented family, was encouraged to exercise her visually artistic eye at a youthful age.

Florence graduated from Forest Park High School in 1927 and attended Dickinson College for two years before switching to the Maryland Institute School of Mechanical Arts—now Maryland Institute College of Art ("MICA"). She went to both the Day and Night Schools there in 1930, graduating with a diploma in Costume Design, and became a post-grad with honors in 1931 with a diploma in Fine Arts, winning the James Young Memorial Prize and a tour of Europe. While at the Institute, she met another student (who was also her painting teacher), Leonard Bahr, to whom she married in 1934. During the "Depression Era" she worked for the Works Progress Administration, painting (among other commissions) a mural for the Harriet Lane Home for Children.

During WWII, the family lived in Florida -- both in [[Hollywood and Jacksonville, where Leonard was stationed. Returning to Maryland, and by June 1947 with three children, they moved from their home on Reisterstown Road in Baltimore City to "Edgewood Cottage," an historic house on Old Lawyers Hill Road in Elkridge, (Howard County) Maryland. By 1966, they had built a new house and studios on the same property.

Florence's ideas were expansive and her interests broad. She used pencil, charcoal, watercolor, pastel, oil, ink, woodcut, etching, lithography and assemblage, and her work reflected her daily life as well as life's larger challenges. From commissions of murals, children's portraits and book illustrations during the 1940s, a wind of change for her came by the mid-1950s. With civil rights and nuclear test issues arising, and basing her faith in Jesus Christ, she re-examined her values and priorities and used her talents to champion human rights, environmental issues, underprivileged children, anti-nuclear testing and anti-war causes.

Florence was bold by nature and not afraid to confront issues, though sensitive to the overwhelming negative projects she worked to change. She used her sketchbooks to record political marches and demonstrations, strikes, trials, and speeches, and eventually donated over 340 of those sketchbooks to the Maryland State Archives. She wrote numerous letters to all levels of government, challenging them to rethink their choices. Her support included funding missions and hosting exchange programs to visiting prisoners and feeding inner-city children at the "breakfasts" organized by the Black Panthers. She was a friend to both Berrigan brothers and the Catonsville Nine, and was a participant within the American Friends Service Committee. Meanwhile, she returned to MICA and graduated with a BFA in art history in 1962 and again in 1967 with an MFA in printmaking.

She thus encouraged herself, inspiring others to raise their life's choices to a higher level of thought and participation; and in many ways, became a remarkable testimony in "having the courage to change and speak out" in the eyes of her children. She remains a legacy and a "state treasure."

But her life didn't stop anywhere in one area. Florence was also an avid reader, collecting an estimation of 1,000 books in her personal library. She loved nature - collecting specimens of flora and fauna she found along the way, and she loved canoeing and bicycling with Leonard. And she was an antiques dealer. She collected everything, but mostly dolls, naming them and painting their portraits. She opened a museum in Ellicott City called the "Humpty Dumpty Doll Museum" and charged for tours of her collection. She was filmed in an episode of "Maryland, By George,", a television interview regarding an exhibition of her doll collection, housed in the Howard County Historical Society at that time.

Florence's art has been exhibited widely and published in magazines, newspapers, and in book illustrations, and is owned by private and public collections in Germany, Japan and throughout the United States, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Peabody Conservatory, and the Baltimore NAACP, which owns an assemblage she created in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1999, she was post-humously awarded "Woman of the Year" by the State of Maryland in their Women's Hall of Fame, and in 2002, her biography was included in the book Women of Achievement in Maryland History.

Florence tragically perished in a house fire which also destroyed some, but not all, of her and Leonard's studio/home contents. What was spared is treasured.

Sources

References online regarding specifics of the lives and art of Florence and Leonard M. Bahr include: "findagrave.com"; "mdartsource.com;" "Sailor.lib;" "mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/speccol"; "mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/educ/womenshall."

Publishments include: "A Family of Artists" in The Sunday Magazine, Jan. 10,1982; and Women of Achievement in Maryland History by Carolyn B. Stegman, 2002.

The Maryland Historical Society, the Elkridge Heritage Society, and the Enoch Pratt Library hold some records of her life and work.

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