Artist: Helen Le France

On Full Display

The Speed Art Museum Presents “Kentucky Women: Helen LaFrance”

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The Speed Art Museum
Artist: Helen Le France

The Speed Art Museum will present “Kentucky Women: Helen LaFrance,” opening as a survey of the artist’s career spanning nearly six decades. LaFrance, who began painting in her 40s and passed away in 2020 at the age of 101, was a prolific figure in American folk art who captured memories of small-town domestic and community life, as well as biblical visionary scenes, through her paintings, murals, quilts, wooden sculptures, dolls and collages.

Drawing upon several of these mediums, the exhibition features more than 35 works showcasing LaFrance’s wide-ranging body of work, from glimpses of everyday life to powerful civic and spiritual moments. “Kentucky Women: Helen LaFrance” will be on view at the Speed through April 30, 2023.

A highlight of the exhibition is its selection of LaFrance’s celebrated sense-memory paintings. These recall moments from everyday life – church picnics, shared meals, parades and funerals – including a painting acquired by the Speed in 2021, “Quilting” (1998), which depicts a group of women working on a quilt. Drawing from private and public local and regional collection loans, the exhibition documents her western Kentucky rural and small-town experiences, rooted in Mayfield and around Graves County.

“Helen LaFrance’s work provides an intimate look into a century of local history through the eyes of a black woman living from Jim Crow through the turn of the new millennium,” says Chief Curator Erika Holmquist-Wall. “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. 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 Speed Art Museum
Artist: Helen Le France

As the second installment of the Speed’s “Kentucky Women” series spotlighting women artists from the museum’s home state, the exhibition will be displayed salon-style in the Kentucky Gallery to illustrate the scope of LaFrance’s prodigious creative output, while placing it near other regional artistic traditions. Programming will include a screening of a 2018 LaFrance documentary at the Speed Cinema, as well as events and education surrounding the tornado that struck LaFrance’s hometown of Mayfield in December of 2021, nearly destroying the historic St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church but leaving intact a mural created by LaFrance in 1947 – one of her first-known public works. The exhibition will include a display regarding the mural and aftermath of the tornado, and information on how visitors can support the community’s efforts to preserve the mural and the rebuilding efforts in the Mayfield region.

“When the Speed began the ‘Kentucky Women’ exhibition series in 2019 with Enid Yandell, it was an affirmation of the museum’s commitment to tell the full story of the state and its artists,” says Speed Museum Director Raphaela Platow. “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.”

The Speed Art Museum
Artist: Helen Le France

“Kentucky Women: Helen LaFrance” is organized by the Speed Art Museum and curated by Holmquist-Wall and Marissa Coleman, the Speed’s 2022 Association of Museum Directors intern. Support for the exhibition is provided by J.P. Morgan, Lopa and Rishabh Mehrotra, and Anne Brewer Ogden.

To learn more, visit



About the Speed Art Museum

The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, is an independent, encyclopedic museum, and the oldest and largest art museum in the state, where our mission is to invite everyone to celebrate art forever. The Speed serves as a cultural hub where people can connect with each other and the work of artists from across the world in new and unexpected ways. Raphaela Platow currently serves as museum director.


Established in 1927 by philanthropist Hattie Bishop Speed, the museum has undergone several renovations and expansions, now occupying more than 200,000 square feet on the University of Louisville’s campus – the most recent of which, led by wHY Architecture’s Kulapat Yantrasast in 2016, tripled the amount of exhibition space and added a state-of-the-art cinema, a family education center, an indoor and outdoor cafe, a Museum Store, and a multifunctional pavilion for performances, lectures and entertainment to the Speed’s robust offerings. Thanks in part to the generous support of the Owsley Brown family and the Brown-Forman Foundation, admission to the museum is free on Sundays. For more information, visit

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