Helen LaFrance (1919 - ) Helen LaFrance is a renowned Kentucky folk artist who
has been painting since she was five. Born in Graves County, her works reflect
images from memories of Western Kentucky farm-life. She received no formal art
instruction and never attended high school; it was her mother who inspired the
young LaFrance, placing a pencil in the child’s hand and instructing her to
paint what she saw, then helping to gently guide Helen’s hand across the paper.
LaFrance’s first work was a large gray rabbit painted on the back of a leftover
piece of wallpaper with watercolors given to her by her aunt. LaFrance remembers
how her mother kept her supplied in paints by blending laundry bluing with
dandelions and berries. LaFrance practices a type of folk art called, “Memory
Painting,” in which the artist records her autobiography in beautiful visual
images. For many years, LaFrance has painted memories of a lifestyle that is
rapidly disappearing. Her paintings portray scenes of Southern farm images, such
as farmers plowing in the field, church picnics, cotton fields, and river
baptisms. Her signature painting, “Church Picnic,” is of a time that is dear to
her. Everyone she paints depicts a different mood. LaFrance’s paintings have
been featured in galleries in Richmond, Ky., Columbus, Ga., and St. Louis, Mo.
Her biography is featured in a book written by Kath Moses, “Outsider Art Of The
South.” According to art dealers, her paintings have been purchased by such
celebrity collectors as Oprah Winfrey and Bryant Gumbel. Of her art, LaFrance
says with modesty: “I just do what I do. I thought if I kept doing it, one day
I’d do something worthwhile.” She has an art gallery in the historic downtown
section of Mayfield, Ky.
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