Leonard Bahr (May 12, 1905 - July 25, 1990) was a prolific portrait painter as well as a painting professor for 52 years at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Of German descent in the Fox/Bahr line, Leonard was the second son of Leonard Bahr and Caroline Elizabeth Fox, and the grandson of both Frederick John Bahr and John August Fox. Leonard grew up on Elizabeth Ave. in Lansdowne, Maryland with combined spiritual sensitivity, creative ability, and athletic nature in which he excelled in running fast. As a boy, he helped make and deliver funeral wreaths for his grandmother and aunt's florist business, during the deadly Influenza of 1918, which amount of death witnessed first-hand, left a profound mark on him at a young age. Leonard's next job was as an illustrator and photo retoucher for the Lynchburg Engraving Co., owned by his uncle, Ed Stevens.
In the early 1920's, he joined the Federal Art Schools and eventually quit regarding their formulas in creating art. By 1926, he enrolled at the Maryland Institute School of Mechanical Arts (now "MICA") to learn to draw; and because of his talent, was granted faculty stipends to continue his studies each year, graduating with honors and winning a European traveling scholarship to tour Europe in 1929. Returning to the U.S. as the "Great Depression" hit, he became a post-grad student at the Institute, and also taught as an assistant to Henry Roben, his painting professor at the Institute's Night School. Also in 1930, Leonard started his painting career beginning with two portraits of Baltimore's Mayor Preston. At that time, Leonard met another art student, Florence E. Riefle, whom he married in 1934. He made some choice friendships at the Institute -- such as with Creeky (Raymond Creekmore), with whom he shared a studio and who remained a life-long friend, as well as with brothers Stephens and Henry Berge.
Early in his career, Leonard (of Christian faith) wanted to paint for the "church" and was commissioned for an altar painting of "Christ at Gethsemane," installed in Our Savior's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lansdowne (the church he attended). He also painted other works of Biblical themes throughout his life. A book of his drawings depicting the "23rd Psalm of David" was illustrated and published in 1933.
Leonard also painted murals for the Works Progress Administration, including 2 for the Baltimore Municipal Aquarium at Druid Hill Park, and 2 for the Catonsville High School, depicting the marriage of Polly Caton and the rolling of tobacco by slaves along Rolling Road to the Elkridge Landing seaport. Though the Catonsville murals were mysteriously destroyed, the preliminary drawing for that mural is held at the Smithsonian.
Leonard graduated from the Officers Training School at Ohio State, becoming a commissioned Naval officer in 1942 World War II, teaching "plane and ship recognition" in Florida bases (both in Hollywood and Jacksonville). He retired from the Naval Reserve as Lt. Commander in 1952.
With three children, Leonard and Florence moved from their house on Reisterstown Road in Baltimore City to Elkridge, (Howard County) Maryland, into "Edgewood Cottage," an historic home on Lawyers Hill in June, 1947. By 1966, they had built a second house with studios on the same property, taking pride in continual landscaping, planting varieties of trees and gardens. Leonard also owned canoes which he used to explore the creeks of the Magothy River (Anne Arundel County). And where he didn't have to drive, he rode a bicycle.
Throughout his career, Leonard painted many portrait commissions, including Bishop Noble C. Powell, various doctors and administrators at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and other prominent individuals. The State of Maryland commissioned him to replicate the historical portrait, by John Wollaston, of Daniel Carroll to be installed at the State House. Leonard served on art boards and juries and exhibited his work widely, winning many prizes for his artistic eye.
In 1980, Leonard retired from MICA with honors for service, and a few years later was subsequently filmed for a video entitled "A Painter's Portrait." Leonard's history and artworks have been published and are privately and corporately owned nationally, including the University of Arizona, the Peabody Conservatory of Music, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Elkridge Heritage Society, to name a few. There is a series of photos at the Maryland Historical Society, of Leonard painting outdoors, photographed by family friend and Maryland photographer Emily Hayden.
As an artist, professor, father, and husband, Leonard was a humble man who saw the best in most people and sought the understanding of higher truth to life's situations and challenges. Leonard died of heart failure July 25, 1990. Florence tragically perished in a house fire January 12, 1998, which fire destroyed some, but not all, of their artistic legacy together. What was spared is treasured.
Publishments include: American Artist, The Appalachian South, Gardens Houses and People, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, and the Baltimore Sun.
References online containing specifics about the lives and art of Leonard and Florence Riefle Bahr include: "findagrave.com"; "sailor.com"; "mhs.org"; "mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/speccol"; "mdartsource.com"; "medicalarchives.jhmi.edu"; and "cooldaddio.net," as well as other source sites.