Rhonda McEnroe has been painting flowers since creating her first print, “Forget-me-nots” in 1979. This year, it was seven red roses that became the highlight of McEnroe’s artistic accomplishments. Those particular roses, set in the foreground of the Churchill Downs Paddock, encircling a 24 karat gold trophy, were the showpieces of the official 2019 Kentucky Derby poster.
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. But, she said, she had to keep the call a secret until she had a final contract in hand, which was near the end of July.
“I was quite honored that I got the phone call,” McEnroe 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.”
McEnroe said she had received a call two years earlier, 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,” McEnroe said. “They said they would keep my name and number, and they did. I was doubly blessed. It happened on my birthday which made it all the more special.”
This time, McEnroe was given a deadline toward 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 to be created for the Oaks, and, according to McEnroe, needed to reflect ladies and pretty hats.
“I was able to offer realism in the Oaks painting,” McEnroe said, referring to the piece she entitled, “Hats, Horses, and More Hats.” “It has nearly 70 people in it. That’s a lot of flowers and a lot of expressions on people’s faces.”
The second piece was 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 were quite sufficient in size,
measuring 24 inches by 36 inches.
While the Oaks painting seemed to be just what Churchill Downs was looking for, McEnroe said they asked her 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.
In order to submit a third painting, McEnroe said she had to use a smaller canvas measuring at just 12 inches by 16 inches. The two paintings that were accepted, which McEnroe said were both done with a lot of contrast to value, will now go into the Churchill Downs collection.
McEnroe said, now that Churchill Downs has approved the images, the first product has been produced, which is a Christmas ornament featuring the Kentucky Derby trophy print. Although Churchill acquired both images to create products, including T-shirts and men’s socks, McEnroe said she is most excited about the ladies shirts this year.
“I am extremely excited that the T-shirt design has been changed for the ladies,” McEnroe said. “This year it is a three-quarter length sleeve and a scalloped bottom that is more flattering to the figure.”
McEnroe’s selected Derby image entitled, “Gold, For the Win,” will also be featured on the official 2019 Kentucky Derby programs and tickets.
Last Thursday evening, at the December meeting of the Owensboro Art Guild, the announcement was made the McEnroe had been selected as the 2019 Kentucky Derby artist.
“I have not made an official announcement because Churchill is going to do that,” McEnroe said, adding that she had just informed a handful of close-knit friends and family.
McEnroe, who said creating artwork for her has always been “as natural as you and I breathing,” feels that this selection is just another opportunity to share her gift with others.
“When I try to do something, I try to do it the best that I can,” McEnroe 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.”