Helen LaFrance, who painted rural memories, dies at 101

Obit Helen LaFrance
Posted at 5:36 PM, Nov 24, 2020

MAYFIELD, Ky. (AP) — A prominent Black Kentucky artist whose painted memories of rural life in Kentucky are featured in U.S. and European museums and in the collections of well-known personalities including Oprah Winfrey, has died. Helen LaFrance was 101 years old.

LaFrance died in Mayfield on Sunday, according to Brown Funeral Home.

LaFrance was self-taught, and her works show people at church, family gatherings, funerals and other aspects of small-town life in western Kentucky.

One of her first known public works is a mural in the St. James AME Church in Mayfield, completed in 1947. LaFrance also has worked in wood carving and quilting.

“Mom used to hold my hand and help me to draw things,” LaFrance said in a news release celebrating her 100th birthday last year.

Her first work was a large gray rabbit painted in watercolors on the back of a piece of wallpaper, according to a bio on the website of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.

Later in life, LaFrance worked in a hospital, tobacco barns and a ceramic factory, where she decorated whiskey bottles. Still, she did not begin painting her well-known “memory paintings” full time until 1986, when she was in her late 60s.