|Birth: ||Feb. 2, 1909|
|Death: ||Jan. 12, 1998|
Let it be understood that Florence (my mother) was an artist as a messenger, she was not the message...that no matter what her achievements, her high energy and drive created reflections of Whom she trusted and she used her God-given talents to the best of her ability. In retrospect, her gifts glorify GOD. Bursting with life's wonderments, her inner spirit understood the call to a Higher Ground.
Florence Elizabeth Riefle was the great granddaughter of Benjamin Horn and Regina Reppert, as well as Henry Ferdinand Riefle and Jacobina Rohrbacher [see memorials]. She was the granddaughter of Jacob Conrad Shafer and Hannah Filmore Horn Shafer, as well as Henry Francis Riefle and Jane Coulson.
Florence was the eldest daughter of James Henry ("Harry") Riefle and Florence Shafer Riefle], and sister of five other siblings: Conrad Shafer Riefle, James H. Riefle Jr., Katherine Shafer Riefle Worthington, Caroline Amelia Riefle Beatty and Jane Coulson Riefle Reilly. The children lived in the Forest Park/Liberty Heights neighborhood and then moved to Homeland where they grew to adulthood.
Creativity and Education:
Though more visually creative, Florence also played the piano in a musically talented family. Otherwise, in her youth and young adulthood, she designed & sewed clothes, hooked rugs, wrote / illustrated books for children & memory books, and illustrated her high school & college yearbooks.
Florence graduated from Forest Park HS in 1927, studied at Dickinson College in 1927-28, and then at the Maryland Institute of Art (now "MICA")(in Day and Night Schools) - graduating in 1930 with a diploma in Costume Design.
As a Maryland Institute post-graduate in 1931, she received a diploma in Fine Arts, won the James Young Memorial Prize Award and traveled to Europe aboard the "Acquatania." She made many sketches throughout the trip, and described the sights in a diary. Among the notables she met were Scotsman James McGrary, a winner at soccer in the Celtic Football League, and, according to her diary, had a night on the town in Paris with Baron George Wrangell [see memorial], a Russian aristocrat who, years later, posed with an eye patch for the original ad of the "Man in the Hathaway Shirt."
Marriage and Family:
From her other diaries beginning in 1929, she took note of and dated her Maryland Institute painting instructor and co-student, Leonard Marion Bahr. In May, 1934, they married and settled in a row house apartment on Park Heights Ave. Being upcoming artists, they participated in joint art shows, and their first one together in 1936 had Mae West and Dick Powell as visitors! Also, Florence and Leonard often took walking trips together, sketching the places they went.
She always carried a sketchbook to record the life around her. Using the mediums of woodcut and linoleum blocks, either on commission or as gifts, she designed signs and invitations, book plates and greeting cards.
During the "Great Depression," she worked for the Works Progress Administration and, among other things, painted a mural for the "Harriet Lane Home for Children" in Baltimore.
One of her first oil portraits was exhibited by the Nat'l Assoc. of Women Painters and Sculptors in New York and was a portrait of her mother's cook [see Lillie Mary Curtis Bailey].
By 1937, they had a daughter and in 1940, a son, living on Reisterstown Rd, where Leonard had a basement studio. Florence designed and made the majority of her young children's clothes, painted and sketched.
In 1943, Leonard went to Naval officer's school and rose in rank to a Lieutenant Commander. He was stationed in Hollywood and Jacksonville, FL by mid 1943, where he was later joined by Flo and their two children. Out of the war by 1946 (see group photo of Riefles and siblings), they returned to their Baltimore home. In May of that year, Flo felt particularly led to have a third child, even at risk to her physical health endangered by the previous birthing of her son.
By Jan. 1947, I was born. In June of the same year, the family moved from Baltimore City to a large, historic home (Edgewood Cottage) on Old Lawyers Hill Rd. in Elkridge.
An Odd Duck and a Bah(r) Bah(r) Black Sheep:
By the 1950's, she taught art at Roxeter-on-Severn and locally established herself painting portraits of children. She was also becoming a feminist in my point of view by first dropping wearing white gloves. Her own etiquette set a funny example when her youngest daughter (me) was taken to a symphony by my aunt (Flo's younger sister) along with her daughter (my cousin). Dressing to leave, my aunt reprimanded her daughter for not putting on her white "little lady" gloves. My cousin protested and asked why should she wear them when Mary didn't have to? My aunt got mad and said she couldn't account for her sister's lack of provision for me, but no daughter of HERS was going to a concert without gloves! Was I supposed to be aware at my age that society would judge me not a "little lady" without white gloves? My mother dropped doing a lot of other things too and bore her younger sister's displeasure.
In a cultured German family with communications based on approval, some changes arrived faster than expected. As in some families, Florence, as a teenager, felt the odd duck to her mother. As much as they both tried, they couldn't seem to understand each other. But it was because of this process that she would be transformed later from some inner prejudices linked to limited and traditional thinking, and to question some hypocrisy she had been led to believe. On many levels, she would not and could not participate with "old orders" in the blossoming new society she would enter.
On her maternal side, my great grandparents kept slaves, and her mother's cook entered through the back door (but left through the front), and at family social functions knew to sit in the back. Florence finally woke up to rebel against certain hypocrisy. Raised a Christian, her faith had to be activated outside the four walls of a home/sanctuary to pursue and understand God's truth. Florence was an odd duck AND a black sheep to her own family, though it was said she was her father's favorite.
In the mid-1950's, Flo attended Koininia, a Christian-based fellowship, where she was active in multinational groups and praying for reconciliation between people. She was also reading about Morris Dees' concept for new towns to be built based on principles of integration, and she took her two youngest children to civil rights demonstrations at Gywnn Oak Park (a fairground). Florence was throwing off her shackles.
In retrospect, what must her mother have thought about those times and of Florence, her eldest daughter named after her! Even though her children and grandchildren visited her and devotedly attended to her needs, my grandmother must have felt very alone in a shifting society.
"The times, they are a-changing:"
In 1960, new opportunities found Florence enrolled in Catonsville Community College to learn German. In 1961 she took on Botony, Biology and Child Art Education. At the same time, she was studying for a BFA in Contemporary Art at MICA, to learn new fields and broaden her creative experiments. She graduated in 1962. In 1967, she graduated again with an MFA degree in printmaking.
Activist and Collector:
At that same time, she was already a social justice activist on different fronts. Anti-war for Vietnam, she rallied in protest demonstrations around Washington, D.C. One family remembrance is that my cousin from New York was protesting in an anti-war rally at the Pentagon (along with thousands of others). Caught and temporarily detained at a stadium, he called his parents in N.Y. to tell them he was alright. They worried and told him to contact his "auntie Flo" and stay with her in Maryland. He told them he couldn't because SHE WAS IN THERE WITH HIM!
Against apartheid in Africa, she held membership in several African organizations that fought it. Since she was a letter writer, she wrote numerously to her senators, congressmen and even to Presidents Kennedy and Carter, etc. She was supportive of the civil rights work of Congressman Parren Mitchell and they encouraged each other often. One of her letters (and its responses), was published in 1970 in "Africa Today," an association to the Center for International Studies at the Univ. of Denver. Her letter of protest questioned the U.S. Navy as to why were they going to build a Naval base in Northern Mozambique? She got immediate attention from the Senate (which hadn't heard of the plan), and the Senate got an immediate denial from the Navy!
Florence, an avid reader, collected an estimated 3,000 books in her personal library, and their children grew up reading. She loved family history and saved all the letters, photos, maps and genealogical data she could. She also collected antiques, including dolls -- some of which belonged to her mother and great aunts from Germany. She gave them names and painted them, creating stories and vignettes. I believe she collected dolls not only to save history, but to save childhood "innocence." About 1984 Florence opened the "Humpty Dumpty Doll Museum" in Ellicott City. In 1994, she was filmed in a segment of "Maryland, By George" about her historical dolls given to the Howard Co. Hist. Soc'y, and those remaining at her museum.
Her artistic creativity with woodcuts, etchings, drawings and paintings was life-long and prolific -- and her work was exhibited, bought, and discussed. Some of her art from estate sales has been shown on eBay.
Compassion and Faithfulness:
Florence was "bold" and, because of her basic honesty and fearlessness, could be a force to be reckoned with -- but at the same time, was extremely sensitive to the world's heartbreak. Life effected her very deeply and, at times, she sorrowed over world burdens more than she had the emotional ability to bear. Her compassion flowed and, in the spirit of Christ, I sometimes reminded her that she was not called to solve all the hurtfulness of a fallen world, but turn it over to God in trust. In her own writing, she said:
"God's Will prevails over man's wishes and desires and plans. Do you understand what I am trying to say? I feel deeply about such matters but have difficulty expressing myself in words, and that, of course, is my weakness. This Life Force which we call God is so overwhelming that one cannot begin to describe it and yet each one of us feels it because it is part of us. I agree with you that who knows if we are moving towards a better state? Man's will seems to prevail at all times and yet I must believe that God's Will will be the ultimate solution."
Before she married, she had encouraged her future husband that they were to endeavor to follow St. Paul's treatise on "love" without the tinkling cymbal. She bore witness of Jesus to the family in many ways, including gifting Bibles to each child. When at a loss for words, she would encourage her children to seek Jesus for themselves. Over the decades, she was also greatly inspired by the faithful actions of missionaries E. Stanley Jones and Albert Schweitzer, social justice ministries of activist Dorothy Day, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Daniel & Philip Berrigan.
With her faith she marched in civil rights causes and anti-nuclear testing, and with the Vietnam war issues at hand, she pursued to bring her basic values to fruition with her artistic passions, intertwining them with "non-violent" activism. She also supported church missionaries, prisoner's rights, child education, and environmental causes. She supported the inner-city breakfast programs run by the Black Panthers, and attended to them downtown. My father would stand in the middle of the road, watching her drive away in her little blue VW beetle. He had posted a sign in one of her car windows that read "SOUL SISTER" -- which was his way of making sure she would blend in with the city neighborhood, at the same time -- proud of her.
Florence got the job of being the court artist for the trial of Maryland governor Marvin Mandel. She also attended diverse public protests and her sketchbooks noted the politics, protesters, strikes and speeches. Florence made and wore a "Stop the Killing" armband and carried placards. She was anti-war in the "ideal" of the word, and effectively documented national upheaval on local fronts, i.e., illustrating pamphlets for The Baltimore Interfaith Peace Mission and sketching the March on Washington. A woodcut of embers burning beneath wood ashes is her "Homage to Martin Luther King" and is owned by the Baltimore NAACP. Over 340 of her sketch books are owned by the Md. State Archives.
In a letter (1/6/62) to her sister Jane, Florence states:
"But isn't this the most marvelous age of all to be in -- its golden opportunities! May we be given the insight to make the most of what we have available to all."
Florence was inducted in 1999 into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame as their first artist as "Woman of the Year." Her bio is included in the book "Women of Achievement in Maryland History" (2002), and "Women of Courage in Maryland History" (2010) [although there are factual mistakes in both books].
She tragically perished in a house fire at her studio home, but more importantly -- Florence is on Higher Ground.
For further info on her life and art see:
DeadFred.com; mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/speccol"; mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/educ/..."; mdwomensheritagecenter.org; "Maryland at a Glance," "Women of Achievement in Maryland History" by Carolyn B. Stegman, 2002, p. 281-2; "Women of Courage in Maryland History," 2010; wikipedia.org; and various Baltimore magazines and periodicals, including the "Sunday Sun Magazine," Jan. 1982 and "The Sun, Howard Co. Ed." Jan. 13, 1998. Information is also on file at the Md. Historical Soc'y, Enoch Pratt Library, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Elkridge Heritage Soc'y, and the Howard Co. Historical Soc'y.
James Henry ("Harry") Riefle (1871 - 1955)
Florence Shafer Riefle (1879 - 1967)
Leonard Marion Bahr (1905 - 1990)
Meadowridge Memorial Park
Plot: Four Seasons, Lot 64
Created by: msb
Record added: Sep 20, 2000
Find A Grave Memorial# 5062441