Vanderbilt Divinity hosts Helen LaFrance: Biblical Vision

Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture to sponsor exhibit

"Jacob's Ladder" by Helen LaFrance
"Jacob's Ladder" by Helen LaFrance

The inaugural exhibition of biblical visionary paintings by self-taught Kentucky artist Helen LaFrance will be on display at Vanderbilt Divinity School through Nov. 16.

The Divinity School’s Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture program will host an opening reception Sept. 20 from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Vanderbilt Divinity Art Room (G-20).

LaFrance, who is 93, has developed a widening fan base among art collectors, museum curators and others interested in the cheerful depictions of her childhood in rural Kentucky. These works of American folk art are known as memory paintings and focus on LaFrance’s fond recollections of working on her family’s farm in Western Kentucky as a young girl.

LaFrance, who has no formal artistic training, did not begin painting full time until 1986. She established an art gallery in the historic downtown section of Mayfield, Ky., and Oprah Winfrey reportedly is among those celebrities who have purchased her work.

The religious images on display at Vanderbilt Divinity School have never been shown before, according to Dave Perkins, associate director of Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture.

Perkins has written an essay about LaFrance’s paintings for a catalog that is part of the exhibition. “These works have a life force, the effect of which is that they are not mere renderings of biblical events or memories of personal visions or revelations, but something alive. The works are the visions. The paintings are a mode of doing theology,” Perkins wrote.

A gallery talk by Kathy Moses, author of Outsider Art of the South and Helen LaFrance: Folk Art Memories, with Bruce Shelton, owner of Shelton Gallery and Fine Silver, is scheduled Sept. 25 from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Divinity Art Room. Shelton collaborated with Moses on her book about LaFrance.

General gallery hours are 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, and 11 a.m.-1 p.m on Fridays. For more information, contact Perkins at