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Speed Art Museum will host a retrospective of late Kentucky artist Helen LaFrance’s work

Helen LaFrance (1919-2020), Quilting, 1998, oil on canvas
Courtesy Speed Art Museum
Helen LaFrance (1919-2020), Quilting, 1998, oil on canvas.

The Speed Art Museum in Louisville will open an exhibition of Helen LaFrance’s art in late August, the museum announced in a news release Tuesday.

“Kentucky Women: Helen LaFrance” will be on view Aug. 26, 2022 through April 30, 2023. It will span the celebrated late artist’s decades-long career, showcasing more than 35 of her artworks.

LaFrance, who died at the age of 101 in late 2020, is most known for her “memory paintings,” which depict joyful, communal moments from her life in rural western Kentucky. 

“She was very much in tune with herself and what she was doing and what she liked to do,” gallerist and LaFrance’s art dealer, Bruce Shelton, told WFPL News in 2020. “She [was] just a kind and gentle woman, besides being very much a gifted artist.”


“LaFrance was an influential artist whose gifts were recognized by communities and collectors alike, and this exhibition is designed to introduce new audiences and longtime fans to her life’s work,” Speed chief curator Erika Holmquist-Wall said in the release. “It’s an important step in further cementing her artistic legacy, and we hope this display helps foster more interest in LaFrance’s unique perspective.”

The exhibition will be shown “salon-style” in the Kentucky Gallery, according to the release, “to illustrate the scope of LaFrance’s prodigious creative output while placing it in conversation with other regional artistic traditions.”

The LaFrance show is the second installment in the museum’s ongoing “Kentucky Women” series, which highlights the artwork of women artists who called the Bluegrass State home. The first exhibition in the series featured Enid Yandell, an important Louisville sculptor known for her public art commissions.

“Now with Helen LaFrance we are able to highlight the influence of another trailblazing figure who made an indelible impact in the arts and in her community, something we look forward to continuing with this exhibition series,” Speed director Raphaela Platow said in the release.