Renowned Kentucky folk artist Helen LaFrance has been chosen to be the 38th member of the Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians, the educational poster and bookmark series produced by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (KCHR).
She will help KCHR unveil her poster at a special ceremony from noon to 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, Friday, Nov. 5, at the LaFrance Art Gallery, 105 West Broadway, in Mayfield, Ky. The public and media are invited to attend the free event. The Mayfield Human Rights Commission will host a light reception and LaFrance will be on hand to autograph free posters.
“We are honored to place Helen LaFrance into our historical gallery,” said Morgan Ransdell, KCHR acting executive director, “She is a testament to excellence and commitment.”
Born in 1919 in Graves County, Ms. LaFrance has been painting since she was 5 years old. She received no formal art instruction nor did she attend high school, she says. It was her mother who inspired the child. “She placed a pencil in my hand and instructed me to paint what I saw,” said Ms. LaFrance, “then she would gently guide my hand across the paper.”
The girl’s first work was a large gray rabbit, which she painted on the back of a leftover piece of wallpaper, using watercolors given to her by an aunt. Later Helen’s mother kept her supplied in paints by blending laundry bluing with dandelions and berries.
The artist uses the “Memory Painting” folk art style, recording her autobiography in visual imagery. For over 70 years, LaFrance has painted her memories of Western Kentucky rural life from a now bygone era – these are Southern scenes – farmers plowing in the field, church picnics, cotton fields, river baptisms. Her signature piece, “Church Picnic,” is of a time in her life that is dear to her, she says.
Her art has been on exhibit in galleries in Richmond, Ky., Columbus, Ga., and St. Louis, Mo. Her biography is listed in Outsider Art Of The South, an art reference book by Kathy Moses.
Of her talent, Ms. LaFrance speaks with modesty: “I just do what I do. I thought if I kept doing it, one day I’d do something worthwhile.” Her gallery is located in the historic downtown district of Mayfield.
The commission introduced the Gallery series in 1970, to recognize the achievements of African Americans neglected in traditional histories of the state and to introduce Kentucky African American history into classrooms. The posters help the commission in its task to raise awareness of human and civil rights in the commonwealth.
Educators and libraries use the colorful, biographical-style posters as teaching tools. Posters and bookmarks are available to the public.
KCHR is the state agency that enforces The Kentucky Civil Rights Act. It receives, initiates, investigates, conciliates and rules upon jurisdictional complaints. KCHR has jurisdiction in housing, employment, public accommodations and financial transactions.
The Kentucky Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status in housing, disability, age (40 or over) in employment, and smoking status in employment. Complaints not dismissed, settled or conciliated go to administrative hearing where commission decisions have the authority of a court of law.