Owensboro may be the bluegrass, barbecue and bourbon region, but with the recent success of the East Bridge Arts Festival and increasing popularity of performance artist Aaron Kizer, a growing number of local artists are hoping Owensboro will soon have a reputation for great art as well. With this feature article, Owensboro Living would like to help you get to know several of these Owensboro artisans:
[tw-divider]Rhonda McEnroe – painter[/tw-divider]
“I have a passion to paint and I’ll never stop,” says Rhonda McEnroe, who is perhaps Owensboro’s most accomplished painter. Her paintings have literally taken her around the world; McEnroe has had three international art exhibits in Milan, Cremona, and Bologna, Italy, where she received the La-Maschera d’Oro Award in Venice and the China Trophy Award in Milan. Back here in the states, she was won several “Best of Show” honors, as well.
Still, it’s her work here in Owensboro that Rhonda is most proud of: teaching. “I just love teaching art lessons. I’m self-taught, so I love passing on what I’ve learned to my students,” Rhonda says. She teaches painting lessons in her home and says she’ll take students any age from eight to eighty.
Every wall of McEnroe’s home is used to display her favorite pieces, either her own or her students. Altogether, McEnroe has 220 paintings in her inventory, including abstracts, murals, watercolors, pastels, and oil paintings. “It’s my prayer that people will buy what I’ve done because they love it and can’t live without it,” she explains.
Over the past several years, McEnroe has done more commissions than direct sales, but lately she’s been doing more portraits, house portraits, and pet portraits. Recently, she has taken out ads in American Art Collector and Southwest Art Magazines to market her portrait work.
Around town, you can see examples of McEnroe’s work at The Earle, Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, Simply Chic, and C’ing Polkadots. Rhonda also invites you to give her a call and have a look at her home studio yourself. It really is an experience to watch Rhonda glow as she flips through her catalogue, tells the stories about each painting, and smiles from ear to ear. You can call her for a personal tour and lessons at 270-684-9910.
[tw-divider]Brook White – glass artist[/tw-divider]
Brook White was faced with a huge dilemma; law school was getting in the way of his art career. Lucky for him, watching things come full circle is a recurring theme in Brook’s life. After completing a year as “graduate fellow in art” at Centre College, where Brook was assistant to world renowned glass blower Steve Powell, Brook was accepted into law school at UK. The problem was he couldn’t get glass out of his head. Eight weeks in, he knew law school wasn’t for him, so Brook put his economics degree to good use and put together a business plan to start his own glass studio in Danville. Another example: six years later, Brook found himself working at the Glassworks building in Louisville until he and his team opened their own studio, Flamerun, in the “NuLu” section of downtown Louisville. Flamerun stayed at that location for eight years, and was doing really well. Then a perfect opportunity came along for Flamerun to take over the Glassworks building, where he originally started in Louisville. Today, Flamerun is the only gallery in Kentucky that is dedicated to glass art.
Brook grew up in Owensboro and has always had close ties here. You can see his work all over town; he made the chandelier at the library, he has pieces at Studio Slant and the museum gift shop, and three of his pieces are on display in the outdoor patio at the hospital. But his most prominent piece is the cascading river scene, which is made of 299 individual pieces of glass in the foyer of the Convention Center. Brook is currently preparing for an exhibit at the museum this fall. Read more at www.flamerun.com.
[tw-divider]K.O. Lewis – painter[/tw-divider]
Football is what brought painter K.O. Lewis to Owensboro. Growing up in Louisville, K.O. was interested in two things: drawing and football. “I’ve always been interested in art, and I’ve been drawing my whole life,” K.O. said. In fact, he used to get in trouble for drawing in his Sunday school books. After focusing on art and graduating from Manual High School, K.O. played football at KWC. It was there he met his wife and developed his third interest, teaching. Education seemed to be the melding of all K.O.’s talents and interests, so he decided to pursue special education and paint on his own time. Over the past year and a half, K.O.’s paintings have been gaining more and more attention, and he now considers himself a professional painter.
Self-described as “contemporary expressionism,” K.O.’s paintings offer a modern take on realistic portraits. “I really try to capture the energy and feel of a subject and not so much precise details” K.O. explains. The result is a wide array of colors that capture the life of the piece. Lewis starts by pulling out the brights and darks, then adds cool and warm colors to get the tone he’s after.
To get his art out to the public, K.O. and his wife work together booking festivals and events. His work can currently be seen at Dalisha’s Desserts (11th and Allen), where it was featured for the “canvas and cupcakes” event and is still on display. A video of a live painting from that show will be released soon. You can see more examples at K.O.’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/lewisacrylics50, or check him out at the East Bridge Art & Music Festival.
[tw-divider]David Walker – Clay artist[/tw-divider]
OHS teacher and sculptor David Walker says he stumbled into ceramics. As an art education major at Morehead State, David needed one more art credit and decided to take an evening ceramics class out of necessity. In his words, that class “turned things upside down,” and resulted in a completely different career path. “Before that,” David explains, “drawing was my main thing and I wanted to teach drawing. After that class, I knew I wanted a job where I could teach others about ceramics.”
For the past twelve years at Owensboro High School, he has done just that. David says he finds the classroom setting very fulfilling. For him, it’s not about the art itself, it’s about the relationships he builds with students through art and “giving the kids hands-on skills to create things they are proud of, whether they ever go into art or not.”
His own art, however took a back seat to the busyness of teaching and raising a family. Three years ago, that changed as well when David built a home studio. Since then, he has been sculpting more and has participated in the East Bridge Art & Music Festival the past two years. You can see his work at his pottery booth at Nona’s Downtown Market and at this year’s East Bridge Art & Music Festival.
[tw-divider]Rex Robinson – painter[/tw-divider]
No coverage of art in Owensboro would be complete without an update on Rex Robinson. With 40 years of experience, Rex is, hands down, Owensboro’s most recognizable painter. He’s probably best known for wildlife paintings and murals like the one on the side of the building on 2nd Street facing the old State building. He’s painted over 100 murals in schools across the state. There are twenty-seven in Tamarack Elementary alone. “I like to do murals that are educational. I put local and regional history in each mural I do,” Rex explains. KET has featured Rex several times, and his work has been highlighted in lots of art publications. As part of the Owensboro Art Guild, Rex has had paintings displayed at the courthouse, the Art Museum, the library, the airport, and the River Park Center. Due to some health issues, he hasn’t had as many public appearances in the past year, but he’s currently working on a series for the Botanical Garden and preparing for a national wildlife competition coming up in October.
[tw-divider]Joe Offerman – woodcarver [/tw-divider]
If you see a guy combing the Ohio River banks for driftwood after a flood, it could very well be woodcarver Joe Offerman. Joe took up woodcarving as a hobby after he retired twenty-three years ago, and it has kept him busy ever since. The day of this interview, Joe was preparing to ship three large boxes full of Santa figures. Those Santas have become Joe’s biggest seller. “Today I’ve got 3,000 Santas in my house,” Offerman said. In addition to Santa figures and holiday ornaments, Joe carves animals, caricatures, religious items, and plaques. He’s also gotten into aluminum sculptures, which he makes by melting down aluminum cans with a blow torch.
Joe’s is a home-based operation. He does the dusty work in his garage, then finishes the carving and painting in an empty bedroom in his house. “This is my daily routine – carving. Some are five feet tall. Some are ornaments. And everything in between,” Offerman says. His products get shipped to six different wholesalers, including galleries and shops in Houston, Lexington, Louisville, and Frankfort, and are available online at www.truekentucky.com. Over the years, Joe’s creations have gained some notoriety; his work can be seen in two New York City museums, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the American Museum of Folk Art. In 2002, his Santa figures were featured on a program on HGTV.
Locally, you can see his work at the Owensboro Museum of Science and History, and he’ll be at the East Bridge Art & Music Festival on September 6.
[tw-divider]Gary Bielefeld – “Big” Art[/tw-divider]
Gary “Mr. Big Stuff” Bielefeld calls himself “fun-employed.” Remember the giant grocery sack at Wetzel’s? Or the giant tool pouch in front of Thriftway? All are the work of Owensboro artist Gary Bielefeld. “Really, we were creating landmarks,” explains Gary. All those giant art pieces were commissioned by local businesses to attract attention. It all started with the Kentucky mirror mosaic, which obviously turns lots of heads coming off the bridge. It’s been there thirty-four years and survived a fire. Next was the giant tool pouch at Thriftway, followed by the giant grocery sack at Wetzels, a giant printing press downtown, the giant Subway sandwich, the fork at Daily Delicious, and the ribbon on the Baker’s Rack car.
Today, Gary jokes that he switched from big stuff to miniatures because he’s been commissioned to work on model train sets, like designing buildings and painting itty-bitty pigeon heads. But his real passion these days is bamboo work. He grows his own bamboo, which he then forms into furniture, tables, and jewelry. To contact Gary, find him on https://www.facebook.com/gary.bielefeld.
[tw-divider]Aaron Kizer – Painter[/tw-divider]
This summer Aaron Kizer’s been busy bouncing between shows in Chicago and Las Vegas and his son’s little league games here in Owensboro. (Kizer has been doing corporate events in Chicago for BP and the American Cancer Society and the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas regularly flies him out to do shows in their clubs and venues within the hotel.) Now that baseball’s over, he’s focused on preparing for his next performance art show, “Artillery,” which will be September 19th at the Convention Center. In the meantime, students at Newton Parrish will have a big surprise on the first day of school; Kizer gave the cafeteria a completely new look.
Get tickets and other info at www.kizerarts.com.