Skip to content



1919 - 2020

Helen LaFrance Orr

1919 – 2020

Helen LaFrance Orr

Helen LaFrance Orr was born in Graves County, Kentucky, the second of four daughters. Her parents, James Franklin Orr and Lillie May Orr, grew tobacco and corn. Helen started painting when she was five.

Helen received no formal art instruction and never attended high school. Both of her parents instructed her in reading and math. Her mother inspired young Helen to draw, placing a pencil in her hand and gently guiding her hand across the paper. Helen’s mother kept her supplied in paints by blending laundry bluing with dandelions and berries.

Helen practiced a type of folk art called “Memory Painting,” where the artist records her autobiography in beautiful visual images. In 2011, Helen received Kentucky’s Folk Art Heritage Award. Oprah Winfrey, Bryant Gumbel, and the collector Beth Rudin DeWoody have all bought her work, which is in the permanent collections of the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Helen LaFrance, a self-taught artist whose vibrant and intimate “memory paintings” of scenes from her childhood in rural Kentucky brought her renown late in life, lived to be 101 years old.

Kentucky Humanities Logo
Brown-Forman logo
National Endowment for the Humanities
Louisville Jefferson County Metro Seal
Yellow and Blue Louisville Jefferson County Metro Seal
TAH Logo
Kentucky Arts Council Logo