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Florence Bahr's passion Fire victim: Works of prolific Elkridge artist endures in sketches and paintings.


FLORENCE RIEFLE BAHR captured some striking images in her day. The Baltimore-born artist drew courtroom sketches of the Catonsville Nine, H. Rap Brown and former Gov. Marvin Mandel, and she painted beautiful watercolor scenes of Baltimore rowhouses from generations ago. At 88, she had ceased working every day, says a daughter, but she still turned out paintings and sketches from her wooden house on Old Lawyers Hill in Elkridge.

It should have come as no surprise that Mrs. Bahr, who died in a fire Monday, was still going nearly seven decades after graduating with honors from the Maryland Institute, College of Art, 63 years after her first Baltimore Museum of Art exhibit.

Mrs. Bahr and her late husband, portraitist Leonard Bahr, turned out countless sketches, prints and watercolors over the years, and did it with a passion. Mrs. Bahr once told a Sun reporter that she would rather draw than eat.

It is understandable that one of her daughters, Mary Bahr of Pikesville, said while standing next to the charred house and its damaged contents that she would rather not dwell on the circumstances of her mother's death, which came after firefighters tried valiantly but failed to reach her. The artist spent a splendid career celebrating life by capturing images of her world on canvas and in sketchbooks.

Unfortunately, an unknown number of her pieces perished in the fire, but many others are preserved.

Her "Homage to Martin Luther King" hangs in the lobby of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People headquarters in Baltimore, and the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis has more than 300 of her sketches from 1957 to 1982.

Mrs. Bahr also had a passion for social activism. She was a pacifist and a supporter of the civil rights movement who marched for those causes. She brought together her interest in art and activity by drawing images of demonstrations in Washington she attended in the 1960s.

Her work remains important -- the Peabody Institute held a retrospective exhibit of her work last January. Family and friends will miss Mrs. Bahr, but the artist's legacy lives through her undying passion for portraying life in 20th-century America.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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