Helen LaFrance was born Helen Orr in 1919 to James Franklin Orr and Lillie May Ligon Orr. In an era known more for share-croppers, her father farmed his own land, growing tobacco and corn among other crops. Her parents created a nurturing environment, buying school textbooks and art supplies for LaFrance and her three sisters. LaFrance attended school at the 5th grade level, but left to help work the family’s farm. In later years following the death of her mother, LaFrance worked at area tobacco farms, a commercial ceramics factory, and various other industries before devoting herself full-time to painting and sculpture in 1986. She maintained a studio in the Boaz community near Mayfield for most of her adult life and sold art through her storefront gallery at 105 West Broadway in Mayfield. She currently resides in a nursing facility where she continues to paint: “When I’m not eating or sleeping, I’m painting.”
LaFrance’s work is represented in the private collections of Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King, Bryant Gumbel and artist Red Grooms, among others, and her paintings are included in the Van Nelle collection of tobacco art in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and in the permanent collections of the Owensboro Museum of Fine Arts and the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead.
Having never had formal training in oil painting, LaFrance has developed a very unique and original interpretation of her surroundings. Her paintings are almost all of farmhouses, crops growing in a field, draft horses, social gatherings related to the church, and animals. This is “outsider” art, presented from the heart without regard to perspective, proportion or any of the other refinements taught in the classroom. LaFrance is also identified as a “memory-style” folk artist, one who paints from memory of scenes rather than from scenes seen on-site. A small but important part of her artwork is based on dreams and her personal religious experiences. All of her works, however, have in common a basis is the artist’s interest in the local environment; every work is of something she has experienced first-hand and every image that she depicts is indigenous to the community in which she lives.
The artist closed her studio and gallery years ago and produces only a few paintings from her room in the nursing facility. The artwork presented in this retrospective exhibition was drawn from the hundreds of works held by private collectors throughout the region and the Commonwealth. It presents a cross-section of her various styles and subject matter, both in painting and sculpture.
A reception for the artist will be held on Friday, June 3 from 6 until 8pm. The public is invited to attend and refreshments will be served.
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The Mayfield/Graves County Art Guild and our Icehouse Gallery are supported primarily by contributions from our membership and the corporate community. Nine percent of our operating budget comes from the City of Mayfield, Graves County Fiscal Court and the Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, which receives state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.