In this life, no one succeeds all on their own. It takes many caring individuals to raise someone up, but sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands and become the inspiration and change you want to see in the world. Marion Behr is the epitome of this logic. Through the lessons she’s learned in life, Marion has been able to overcome adversity and become a successful artist, author, business leader, and at times, a mentor for others.
Marion Behr is a published author, successful businesswoman, artist, and mentor. Her life has seen adversity, as all our lives do, but Marion also had a strong baseline of ethics and positivity that guided her to become the successful leader she is today.
Through her success, she’s given a voice to those who otherwise may have faded into the background of their own life. She’s created space for women in the business world at a time where they were expected to stay at home and raise a family. She’s published books and articles that have shined a light on artists who never could’ve imagined their work being appreciated in the public eye.
Most importantly though, she has humbly taken on life in a manner that many of us aspire to, remembering the positive individuals and moments in her life that worked as encouragement for her to succeed, while embracing the creative parts of her soul during times where many would have given up.
Now, she has become an inspiration for many who have been influenced by her art, publications, and general life lessons that are embedded in every project she has taken on.
“It was never a question of if there would be obstacles, but more so dedicating myself to work through them. I have always had tenacity, and it’s aided me through every aspect of my life and career.”
So many people influenced Marion’s life, either directly or indirectly.
First, she describes her father, Justin Max Rosenfeld. In Berlin he owned the Orbis film company and one of the most noted films that he produced was Razzia in St. Pauli.
Marion introduced the film to Laurence Kardish, Senior Curator at the Department of Film at The Museum of Modern Art. Razzia in St. Pauli was included in the Weimar Film Festival in New York. Justin’s grandchildren and great grandchildren never met him, but all of them were present to see this beautiful movie on screen at the M.O.M.A.
Marion’s mom was a translator of 5 languages, teacher, and writer. Both parents fled Berlin in 1938 after Marion’s father’s life was saved by Werner Behr and Wilfred Israel, who literally purchased prisoners held in holding camps and saved their lives. Her parents made heroic efforts to come to America to create a safe life for themselves and hopefully to start a family. During the year after their arrival into the United States, Marion was born.
Before her parents came to the US, a film producer in California had contacted her dad, Justin, to work in his company. Unfortunately, that sponsor, an elderly gentleman, died while they were on the boat, so a brother sponsored him. When her parents arrived, it became necessary to find more humble work. Months later Marion’s father wrote a beautiful letter expressing gratitude for his freedom and the ability to breathe the fresh spring air, which now is in his daughter’s possession.
The experiences of her parents and the stories they shared regarding others who had to flee due to a war, shaped Marion into an individual who respected humanity. One never knows the intricacies of someone else’s experiences in life, so treating everyone you encounter with respect and dignity is something that was instilled in her at an early age. Her father’s creativity was absorbed by his offspring while she was growing up, as he constantly encouraged her to embrace that side of her being.
In life there are flashbacks. Behr still recalls being scolded in nursery and kindergarten classes at Columbia School, where her mom now taught French. The small child talked too much. As a result, the talkative tot was frequently given a pack of crayons and paper and the child became quiet, focused and content.
Marion still remembers Friday evenings in her youth when her dad would come home from work with flowers for her mother and something to create with, either paints, brushes, colored pencils, or corrugated cardboard boxes. Father and daughter would then spend their evening creating toys and sculptures, but most importantly, embracing creativity together. On the weekends, they would go to art galleries or museums where her father would sign Marion up for art classes, which she loved. It felt like such a natural way of life.
During one of their visits to the Memorial Art Gallery, a poster in the entrance hall announced a competition divided into two age groups, calling for children to create illustrations on empty pages of a book entitled Dimples and Cocksure by Phyllis Frazer, published by Random House. It was all about honing in on your creativity and making something original that would fit within the context of this picture book story. A copy of this book was given to every contestant. The weekend that had been set aside for this project, neighbors invited Marion to go skiing, which was something she had never done and thought learning the sport would be great fun.
Her dad quietly reminded her that if she wanted to enter the book illustrating contest, she would have to take her commitment seriously. He also explained how the creative process is all about trial and error. When Marion started work on her entry, she was frustrated and annoyed with how her work was turning out, and being a child, was wishing to be skiing with her friends.
Marion’s dad, being aware of her feelings, simply explained “If something doesn’t work the first time, do it again so that it’s better and when necessary, do it again and don’t stop until YOU are totally satisfied, YOU, not anyone else.” This concept remains with Marion to this day.
Marion won the competition, both for her age group and for the Grand Prize. She was 7-years-old. The prizes were three beautiful books of reproductions of artwork created by famous artists from the past and recognized artists from the present. One favorite painting was by Edward Chavez who thirteen years later became Marion’s Master’s advisor and mentor during her final college years.
“The people in our lives continue to leave an impact on us as we get older. Being motivated to constantly go for the things that I was interested in shaped the person I became and am today. Nobody succeeds all on their own, they succeed through their experiences, lessons learned, and the people who were there that taught them those lessons.”
The following summer included a Girl Scout overnight camp. Marion still recalls an incredibly wise counselor and great mentor for her at that time of life. One night, Marion remembers sneaking out and going to one of the large ponds on the campgrounds to go canoeing, which was just one of her fun spontaneous adventures as a child.
The next morning however, Marion felt very guilty over breaking the rules and ended up telling her counselor what happened. Instead of reporting her for breaking the rules, the counselor marked down the fact that she was honest. As a result, the following weekend when the camp hosted Parents’ Day, Marion was honored with being the flag girl during the ceremony, which for a 7-year-old at camp was one of the highest recognitions one could get.
During the following week, her aunt came to pick up Marion from camp and shortly thereafter she found out her father had passed away. Despite all the sadness and grief, Marion was glad that one of her father’s last memories of her would have been one of pride through her work with the museum’s competition, and the role she played as flag girl, thanks to an amazing counselor’s perspective on life! These memories may seem like fleeting experiences to some, but for Behr, they are pieces of the puzzle that shaped the individual she came to be.
Visual art, writing, and being creative were a large part of her existence throughout her grade school journey. “I was lucky to get my education in a school district that focused on letting each child embrace their individuality and the things which they were good at.”
Those things have an influence when you are coming of age. By the time Marion went to high school, she had acquired several interests. Art was still her mainstay, and writing, cheerleading, student government and designing the senior class yearbook, were all in the picture, as was an afterschool job at The Junior Size Shop where Marion was treated and taught as though she were the owner’s daughter.
There were teachers in both grammar and high school that were mentors and a woman high school principal, Mary Sheehan, who encouraged Marion to run for school president during her senior year. Wendy Lazar, her campaign manager, became her business partner much later in life. Marion lost the election but was pleased to have been the second female to have had the opportunity to run for the position in her high school, at that time. The experience also proved to be beneficial when applying for a scholarship and later in life, when speaking in front of large groups
Mary Sheehan and an alumna of Syracuse became advocates when it was time to apply for a scholarship to attend Syracuse University. Strangely enough, the alumna who helped then, had a daughter who many years later would become one of the main editors for Surviving Cancer: Our Voices & Choices.
This is just one more example of how experiences and people can influence the direction our lives take. One never knows what lessons and moments will become useful in the future, but they happen for a reason, so it makes sense to embrace them.
“Living a life where you emphasize having respect for others, honesty, and expressing oneself through your own creativity, shape who you are as an individual and reshape your intentions of who you want to become.”
Marion’s mother had encouraged her to get a bachelor’s degree in Art Education with a minor in English to ensure there would always be a backup plan if her dream to work in the art field did not work out.
Her mom’s degrees had made it possible to teach English from their home to many who were forced to flee and did not know the language. For a period, their home was home to some that did not have one. Later in life, some of these students were able to accomplish a great deal in this country, and through her efforts, patience, and understanding, Marion’s mother helped smooth their path.
Marion still wanted to major in Art, so her summer and after school jobs paid off. Marion was able to fulfill her dream and get a master’s in fine arts. Before embarking on her professional career path, she earned her Bachelor of Arts from Syracuse University, where she Majored in Art Education and Minored in English 1957-1961. She continued her education and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Painting, 1962. Subsequently, she attended the Parsons School of Design and learned etching from, and monitored for, Master Printer, Mohammad Khalil.
After graduation she was offered an excellent teaching position, but her life’s path led to marriage shortly after graduation and the teaching job was turned down.
The newlywed couple moved to New Jersey. Marion’s husband had a PhD in Chemistry and would be working in a corporate chemistry lab, but had the desire, and opportunity, to go to Law School to become a Patent Attorney. Marion wanted to work as an artist.
Both acted as motivators for each other to pursue their individual dreams. Dr. Behr went to night school. Marion began focusing on painting. During her first year of marriage, working together built an amazing foundation for their relationship. This past year, along with children and grandchildren, the Behr’s celebrated their 60th anniversary.
During their first year of marriage Marion hired an agent and continued to focus on painting while also working on very large mosaics and murals for a doctor’s office. As life progressed the couple became parents to three energetic, delightful children. For Marion, having children was one of life’s great processes. The main challenge over the early years was figuring out how to schedule a healthy existence.
“When my kids were young, I thought about the initial sparks in my own creativity growing up doing arts and crafts projects with my parents, and I wanted to implement that same drive into my kids. We spent so much time using our imagination together, our house became an archive of ingenuity and art.”
At this point, it was time to start designing and sculpting large colorful imaginary animals out of paper mache which were sold to McCall’s, given a double page spread and one which appeared in the arms of a young girl on their front cover. Then nearly every craft item was easily sold to numerous magazines. Wonderful connections were established and helped to gain access to magazines after the publication of Women Working Home: The Homebased Business Guide and Directory. Every item sold to a magazine was reproduced for, and often with, their children. Carol Howard, Marion’s best friend, also had three children and was a serious artist. The two women helped free up some painting time for one another.
Once the children reached school age, a room in the family home became a full-time studio. It was there Marion became involved with illustrating The Jewish Holiday Book, written by Wendy Lazar, and published by Doubleday.
When the illustrations were nearing completion, Marion was asked to do a presentation to a group of women living in Princeton, New Jersey, describing her work, the environment where it took place, and the benefits and pitfalls of working while raising children. Three other businesswomen were also invited. The audience consisted of intelligent educated mothers of young children who were often married to ambitious men who daily commuted to New York City and held corporate positions. Three of the four speakers worked from their homes and they made a strong impression on the audience, because many attendees saw possibilities for themselves.
The event stimulated Marion. While driving back home there was a clear realization, there were no other homeworkers in her neighborhood. This led to the question, how many existed throughout the States? Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out. Wouldn’t it be exciting to do a national survey? In that minute, a new chapter in life was born that occupied the next ten years.
Once home, Marion shared her desire to do a national survey to discover the inside story of what was then referred to as the “Cottage Industry.” Marion’s husband, her greatest advocate, fully supported the idea. Shortly afterwards, The Jewish Holiday Book went to press. It was time to figure out how to notify homeworkers about the pending survey.
Marion started to inquire about costs. A local survey, done by a professional company in Princeton about homeworkers in that community would cost around $50,000. Not affordable! There had to be another way. Fortunately, a new magazine, Enterprising Women, had hired a writer who was looking for women with new ideas. Marion had called the right number. Within a short period of time, an article promoting Marion’s concept of a national survey was published. Letters came in by the throngs describing all types of jobs being carried on from home. Also revealed were endless trials and tribulations, and lists of anti-homework laws including those that made it almost impossible for New England farm wives to sell their knitted sweaters. They worked their land throughout the summers and found it necessary to earn an extra income over the winters to help support their farms and families.
When all the information was gathered, it was time to do more. It was time to develop WWH Press Inc. (Women Working Home Inc.) and to compile a book on how to create a home-based business, answering questions regarding who was already involved, why, and where home workers were located throughout the country to provide business information for individuals who wanted to establish new businesses from their homes.
The concept for compiling Women Working Home: The Homebased Business Guide and Directory came into existence, and with it the idea for a National Alliance of Homebased Businesswomen to fight for regulation changes, and finally giving home workers an opportunity to network.
Marion contacted Elisabeth Lyons, a highly respected management consultant. She became and remained a mentor until she passed away. Elizabeth Lyons emphasized the importance of a bio so that WWH Press, and all future businesses and creative endeavors, would have a staple statement about an individual, her goals, and overall mission in life. Furthermore, Elizabeth provided amazing business advice regarding the ownership of WWH Press Inc. Through all her actions she enforced Marion’s belief that success comes from the lessons learned in life and the people around you who teach them.
Marion asked Wendy Lazar if she would become a partner in WWH Press. Another friend from their high school and college days, Arleen Priest, was asked to become their business manager.
“I was lucky enough to always have people in my life who believed in me and wanted me to pursue the things I loved, so to be able to give that to so many other individuals, especially women, has been an honor.”
Seven home workers founded the Alliance. Marion was the first president and then legislative chair. It was somewhat difficult, but also thrilling, to juggle so many challenges at the time, but once again, thanks to the help of many, it all worked out.
After several years of compiling information, writing articles, overseeing layouts and photograph selections, selecting a printer, paper, and the best font, they had their final mockup. The book was printed.
“Arron Priest, a highly respected book agent, represented our book. The back cover of our First Edition contained incredible quotes from Erma Bombeck, Nationally Syndicated Columnist, and author of Aunt Erma’s Cope Book, – Mary Kay, Founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics Inc. – Alvin Toffler, famous author of Future Shock and Gerri Hershey, noted columnist for Family Magazine. Representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Displaced Homemakers Network wrote highly complementary reviews as well.”
These quotes certainly helped to reach the public. Home-based business was still a relatively novel concept and WWH Press Inc. originated in a home. Theirs was a wonderful story for the media, which helped to sell 50,000 copies of the two editions combined. During this period Marion was interviewed by Phil Donahue, appearing on numerous A.M. America programs in a variety of States, wrote magazine articles for her Home-based Business column in Entrepreneur Magazine, and very fortunately, after 15 years of cooking dinners, was replaced by her husband who became an excellent cook.
The difference Marion made with the popularization of the Alliance and her book is substantial. By putting a spotlight on what it meant to work from home, she simultaneously showed the nation the power of women in the workforce and highlighted independent women making a career for themselves. Her work towards gender equality in the workforce did not go unnoticed, in fact she presented her work in Washington D.C. and advocated for changes in the law regarding home-based businesses.
As a pioneer and advocate for women across the United States, Marion gave presentations to the US Labor Department. Ted Kennedy, and Orin Hatch, were the selected Senate members to hear her presentation. The information presented helped change laws on home-based businesses. Marion then received a Presidential Appointment to the White House Conference on Small Business.
She was also asked to teach and lecture at various universities about the concepts that she gained through building a national organization and publishing Women Working Home: The Homebased Business Guide and Directory. At the end of almost every class there were collaborations and new ideas for businesses created, but most notably there was an increased level of passion in the room. Thereby she was able to assist women to take the first step in working for themselves, from their homes, while balancing their other responsibilities.
“When I talk about people helping each other, it’s all about highlighting what one is good at and enjoys doing and using that for collaboration to potentially create something new. I was lucky enough to always have people in my life who believed in me and wanted me to pursue the things I loved, so to be able to give that to so many other individuals, especially women, has been an honor.”
After the books sold and the Alliance was established, Marion was anxious to return to her original love for art. She became an expert in the process of etching. At that time the method for acid etching often involved heavy exposure to acid fumes, which led to her becoming sick. This didn’t stop her from continuing her art, but furthermore creating something that would make it safer for her, and future artists, to pursue their printing passions.
Her husband’s background in chemistry and her background in etching allowed them to collaborate to create a non-toxic, acid-free mode of art etching using Low-Voltage Anodic Electrolysis to replace acid, as well as ElectroEtch Enterprises. The initial patent for this method was selected as patent of the week and featured in the New York Times as well as in numerous magazines. It felt amazing to create a method of etching that would be able to help a multitude of people avoid the health effects of working with the previous methods of etching.
The award to them of the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation Humanities Grant for the Arts and Humanities allowed Marion to create portfolios of 50 ElectroEtch prints and their plates comparing acid etched to ElectroEtch prints. One of the portfolios and several prints were later purchased by The Smithsonian.
The Behr’s innovative process was then implemented by art studios and universities internationally. Her prints have since been featured in Printmaking Today, Chemtech and Leonardo magazines along with articles describing various elements of the process.
The Behr’s were invited to teach in “third world” studios where directors were extremely conscious of enforcing nontoxic approaches to art. For Marion, these were precious learning as well as teaching experiences.
Her three children had urged their mom to get a mammogram. Then came a cancer diagnosis. Thank heaven for those kids. The doctors patiently explained the cancer was still small. However, had she waited much longer, as was distinctly possible, the results would most certainly have been different.
During her subsequent radiation treatment, Marion noticed various cradles on shelves which had been specifically created to hold each patient in place during their treatment. They inspired her to restructure them and create sculptures depicting various cancer patients’ feelings and experiences. Behr asked the nurses if it was possible to take some of the used cradles home, because once used they could not be recycled or reused. The staff was delighted to give them away. Initially three plastic cradles were taken home. After they were developed into life size sculptures, she described her project to one of her doctors who insisted she contact Dr. Kathleen Toomey, then the head of Steeplechase Cancer Center.
Marion called Dr. Toomey on a Friday and despite an incredibly tight schedule, this doctor made time to visit Marion’s studio that weekend. Dr. Toomey was extremely pleased with what she saw, and twenty some sculptures later, there was a very professional opening held on the first and second floors of the hospital.
The opening to “Cancel Cancer” was extremely well attended and the sculptures seemed to convey strong messages and were very well received. The press did the event total justice. However, the most potent memory of the exhibition occurred on another day. An elderly man was sitting in his wheelchair observing one of the sculptures for a very long time. Marion approached him and asked him what he was thinking about. He responded by explaining his own personal cancer story and then went on to describe a very fascinating personal life’s history.
Marion was enthralled by his response and at the time thought how interesting it would be to collect histories directly from cancer patients, to share with others. However, other than mentioning the idea in passing to Dr. Toomey, she was already working on more sculptures to include in the next one person show at what is now known as The Center for Contemporary Art. The incident created a spark, which later became a fire.
It was during the second show, which covered three floors of the gallery, that the curator and her assistant decided to organize a panel presentation which included two oncologists, Dr Toomey and Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, and four survivors. Three of the survivors were young, extremely attractive, and excellent speakers. Marion had just turned seventy and was delighted with this event. After the speakers had completed their very impressive presentations, sharing much information without creating fear, questions were opened to the audience. Two women both asked simple questions but then commented on how grateful they were for the information because both having been told: “You have cancer!” went straight home to gather information from their individual computers and both became terrified because of gathering excessive information.
At the end of the evening, Marion left the gallery elated. By the time she arrived home, another book took form in her mind. She grabbed a piece of paper and outlined the basics. A cancer book with a great professional team. Firsthand information. Facts presented without creating fear. Presentations by survivors. Reach out to cancer organizations. Call Dr. Toomey and the three other survivors to find out who would like to be involved. Two of the three survivors wished to include their experiences and Dr. Toomey became another priceless mentor, and also wrote the opening article in their book providing an abundance of imperative basic information for cancer patients everywhere. So it was, another project began and opened a remarkable period in Marion’s life – once again.
“At the end of the day, if you’re going to be afraid of something, look to something positive and fill your soul with that as much as you can. Use the lessons you’ve learned throughout your life, and embrace the pieces of it that gave you real undeniable joy. Life is hard and will always have obstacles, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop truly living.”
“Surviving Cancer: Our Voices and Choices is a compilation of 70 voices of survivors and a “cancer team” of doctors, social workers, cancer organization leaders, and other professionals directly involved in assisting cancer patients. These voices represent a variety of ages and cultures, from America, Canada, Cambodia, Israel, and India. Each voice held a vast array of information and expertise. One of these voices had received the Nobel Prize and another was granted the Order of Canada. Every author speaks from firsthand experience.
The goal of each contributor was to ease the road and alleviate fear for any person who is told ‘You may have cancer.’”
Surviving Cancer: Our Voices and Choices was chosen and received many awards including the IPPY Gold in the Health Category, the President’s Gold Medal for Health & Fitness from FAPA and was granted the Medal for Best Specialty Book by New Apple. It was also selected by Publisher’s Weekly as the Best Independently Published Health Book and The Library Journal, Huffington Post and Cure magazine, where it received immense praise. The book is illustrated with photographs of the sculptures which were made from restructured radiation cradles which represent the experiences of numerous cancer patients. The sculptures have also been in many one person shows to encourage “early detection”
“If you’re going to be afraid of something, look to something positive and fill your soul with that as much as you can. Use the lessons you’ve learned throughout your life and embrace the pieces of it that gave you real undeniable joy. Life is hard and will always have obstacles, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop truly living.”
Behr is a pioneer for independence, teamwork, and creation. Her passion and drive to put a spotlight on the hard work women all across America were accomplishing through their own fruition and work ethic created a space for wider discussion over how home-based businesses could not only find success but thrive to levels never before seen.
A major part of Behr’s philosophy in life is that nobody succeeds on their own, and it takes many others to make it through life. However, the milestones of her life and career should all be accredited to her own dedication and passion to follow her own dreams. Yes, the lessons she gained throughout her lifetime and the support she was given from mentors, friends, and family helped motivate her to never give up, but when it came to making real, legitimate change, Behr was and is truly inspiring.
Marion Behr is a humble inspirational individual, who’s always used her various positions to uplift others, while uplifting herself. The changes she’s been able to make, and the marks she’s left on this world will last a lifetime, in ways that many may not even realize.
Working from home has become common practice in our society today, and it was people like Behr who not only fought to spotlight the benefits of home-based business but used her platform to expand others’ ideas and minds beyond what mainstream society has implemented in our concept of working. Beyond her impact in the workforce, Behr’s emphasis on creativity and pursuing your passion worked as an inspiration for nearly everyone around her, and her impact is far from over.
Marion’s paintings, drawings and sculptures have been on view in numerous one person and group exhibitions in the States and other countries including Peru, Mexico, Germany, Thailand, and Japan and in private collections in each of these countries as well as in Morocco, Israel, and England.
One person shows that featured paintings, prints, and sculptures, include Douglass Residential College in 1983, Pargot Gallery in 1989, B. Beamesderfer Gallery in 1992, El Dorado Gallery in 1992, Hunterdon Art Museum in 1993 and 1998, and the Instituto Cultural Peruano Norteamericano in 1999. Further one-woman shows include Discover Jersey Arts in 2005, Steeplechase Cancer Center in 2008, Center for Contemporary Art 2002, and in 2009 the show was sponsored by a grant from Ortho-McNeil, National Association of Women Artists Inc. Gallery in 2010, OSI Pharmaceutical Gallery in 2010 and Walter Meade Gallery in 2012.
Outside of these exhibitions, Mrs. Behr has exhibited in group shows at Contemporary American Artists in 1964, Douglass Residential College in 1997, Kanagawa Prefectural Gallery in 1989, John Szoke Gallery in 1989, and 80 Washington Square East Gallery in 1990. She also held exhibitions within group shows at Juniper Gallery in 1991, the El Dorado Gallery in 1992, the B. Beamesderfer Gallery in 1992, Artsquad Gallery in 1993, and Lever House in 1995. Other group shows include the Cheltenham Center for the Arts in 1996, Cork Gallery in 1996, Stark & Stark in 1998, and the National Academy Museum (now the National Academy of Design) in 1998.
Mrs. Behr also featured in shows at Krasdale Gallery in 1998, Audubon Artists in 1995, 1997 and 1999, Grounds for Sculpture in 2001, German Architecture Center in 2004, and at 80 Fifth Ave Gallery in 2004. In 1993, 1996, 2002, 2004, and 2005, she was featured in group shows at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerit Art Museum at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She also exhibited art at Ortho Gallery in 2006, Red Brick Gallery in 2006, and Ben Shahn Gallery in 2006 and 2011.
At present she is compiling a collection of drawings influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic and recent political occurrences.
Through her books and teachings, she’s been able to create a ripple effect of individuality and embracing the parts of life that brings one joy. We all could take a page from Behr’s book, literally and figuratively, and start leading our lives through positivity, creativity, and empathy.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.