When Rhonda McEnroe was growing up as a young girl, she always knew she enjoyed coloring. Even at the young age of 5, she realized art was quickly becoming her passion. Placing her focus on what she refers to as, “optimistic” artwork, Rhonda decided she was ready to sell her first painting in the late spring of 1979. She took the painting to the Executive Inn, had it placed in the boutique window, and then started a mailing list for those interested. “Everyone that saw it said if it was made into a print, they would buy a copy,” Rhonda said. “I took a gamble and $1,000, and published my first print.”
She said from there she went door to door from frame shop to frame shop. Rhonda said that first print, “Forget-me-nots,” had a retail price of $15 or $20, but it was a start. The print sold out — 1,000 copies in nine months. Her second print, which she said was prettier than the first, also at 1,000 copies, sold out in two months.
Those first prints set the stage for a retail gallery, Gallery 412, on Second Street, which McEnroe maintained for 12 years, and an art gallery at Cigar Factory Mall. She said she sold a total of 20 different prints from 1979 to 1995 and “that got my name out and people paid attention. I got noticed at different shows, museums and different competitions.”
Over the last 20 years, Rhonda’s passion for art became so strong that she also began sharing it with others as an art instructor. “It’s kind of nice whose life you get to touch through art,” Rhonda said, adding that a friendship has grown amongst the ladies she teaches. “I may be the catalyst, but they are there for each other. It’s just another way people bless each other, and the art community is strong like that.”
Although Rhonda’s largest body of work is currently featured at The Earle men’s store in Wesleyan Park Plaza, she is once again getting noticed for her artistic abilities beyond Owensboro. In February of this year, on McEnroe’s birthday, she received a call letting her know that she had been selected to submit her paintings to be considered for the 2019 Kentucky Derby poster design.
“I was quite honored that I got the phone call,” Rhonda said. “I believe that a local business gentleman sent my name in. My first acknowledgment and appreciation goes to God and to this gentleman for submitting my name.”
She said she had received a call two years prior, offering her a similar opportunity, “but the deadline was in one week and I knew I could not complete two paintings in that period of time.”
The committee said they would hold onto her name and number for the future, and they did. “I was doubly blessed,” she said about the call when it finally came. “It happened on my birthday, which made it all the more special.”
This time, Rhonda was given a deadline near the end of August to create sample designs for Churchill Downs to approve. She set to work right away incorporating the necessary design elements for two separate Derby-inspired pieces. The first piece was for the Oaks, which Rhonda said needed to reflect ladies and pretty hats.
“I was able to offer realism in the Oaks painting,” she said, referring to the piece she entitled, “Hats, Horses and More Hats.” Rhonda said the painting included close to 70 people and “a lot of flowers and a lot of expressions on people’s faces.”
The second piece was meant to reflect the Kentucky Derby itself and was required to contain the famed Churchill Downs’ spires, as well as a horse and jockey. McEnroe said both paintings were done in oil on canvas and measured 24 inches by 36 inches each.
While the Oaks painting seemed to be just what Churchill Downs was looking for, Rhonda said she was asked to “tweak” the Kentucky Derby painting. This consisted of replacing the horse and jockey with the Churchill Downs Paddock as the backdrop for a 24 karat gold trophy and seven red roses.
Now that both images have been approved and acquired by Churchill Downs, they will be used to create products, including T-shirts, socks and ladies’ shirts. The selected Derby image entitled, “Gold, For the Win,” will also be featured on the official 2019 Kentucky Derby programs and tickets.
Rhonda said accompanying her signature on both the Derby and Oaks paintings is the number 22. “The number 22 means a great deal to me spiritually,” Rhonda said, adding that as she signs each painting she says, “Thank you, Lord, for my talent. I give it back to you for your glory.”
As far as what the future holds beyond the Derby and Oaks paintings, Rhonda said, “The doors that the Lord can open through this opportunity are unknown to me at this time. God’s given me the passion to paint, and I love it. I absolutely love it.”