by Walter Fox

Robert Fluhr, 84, a local artist and teacher who offered sculpture classes to the blind and visually impaired for more than 20 years, died June 20 of complications from renal failure and heart disease at Hahnemann Hospital.

Mr. Fluhr started his “Vision Through Art” sculpture classes for the blind at the Allens Lane Art Center in 1988. Through this program, he became an advocate for the blind and visually impaired, lecturing about the program and showing his students’ work at many venues across the region and the country.

In 2009, he was awarded one of the first annual Carolyn Fiedler-Alber Awards from the Main Line Arts Center for his work with the blind.

Mr. Fluhr had been associated with the Allens Lane Art Center almost from its inception in the 1950s. Both he and his wife, Annette, had been board members at the center for many years, and Mr. Fluhr was curator of the center’s art gallery.

For their volunteer work at Allens Lane, the Fluhrs received a Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award in 2004. Mr. Fluhr’s volunteer efforts also were honored by Temple University, the Unitarian Universalist Church, the United Way and other organizations.

The studio at Allens Lane in which he and his wife worked for nearly 30 years will be renamed in his honor in ceremonies this coming fall.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Fluhr had lived in Philadelphia for 62 years  – in Germantown, East Mt. Airy and West Mt. Airy before moving to Chestnut Hill four years ago and to Center City in March.

A member of the first graduating class at Midwood High School in Brooklyn, he received bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and science from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. He also was awarded a master’s degree in ceramic industrial design from Alfred University.

Mr. Fluhr taught ceramics in the Philadelphia public schools for 30 years, most of that time in the Industrial Arts Department at Northeast High School. He also taught art at the Lighthouse Settlement in Kensington and at several area art centers, including the Fleischer Art Memorial, the Cheltenham Arts Center and Allens Lane.

He was head of the art department at the Lighthouse Art and Music Camp for 25 years and stayed on in that capacity when the camp became Eagle Springs, a camp for intellectually and developmentally challenged.

Mr. Fluhr took a sabbatical year, from 1963 to 1964, to learn new ceramics techniques from a potter in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and from 1969-70 taught art at the Devizes School in Devizes, Wiltshire, England, after he was selected for the Fulbright Exchange Teacher Program.

He was an active member of East and West Mt. Airy Neighbors for many years and was involved in the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s as a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He was active in the C.W. Henry Home and School Association while his daughters were there and was an early member of the Weavers Way Co-op.

An accomplished artist in multiple media, Fluhr, according to his daughter Suzanne Fluhr, of Philadelphia, turned to collage when ceramics became too strenuous for him. She said her father “possessed an irreverent sense of humor that he used unsuccessfully to try to mask his compassion and generosity of time and spirit.”

Elayne Bender, executive director of East Mt. Airy Neighbors, said she had known the Fluhrs since the 1970s when she had taught one of their daughters.

“Bob was not only a talented artist in several media,” she said, “but a wonderful human being – a sweet and generous man hiding under a sometimes-gruff exterior.”

In addition to his wife of 60 years and his daughter Suzanne, he is survived by daughters Jennifer Tumberello, of Philadelphia, and  Madaline Fluhr-Resendes, of Milpitas, Calif.; and three grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the Allens Lane Art Center, 601 W. Allens Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19119.