Rhonda’s story might begin with her hitchhiking across the country from Michigan to the west coast at age 18, leaving behind her family and
Or her story could start with her training to be the first woman in the state of Washington to become
a “journeyman industrial painter/sandblaster,” (1978-1982), which she describes as the “dirtiest job on the planet.” Her job involved stripping
North American semi-trailers, often 42 feet long, painting and turning them into Allied Van lines. She was lowered deep inside tanks wearing protective equipment, but sometimes without
adequate protection. Though male co-workers told her she would never last, she not only persevered through dangerous situations, but became their supervisor.
Or her story could start when she moved to Sonoita, and then to Patagonia where she has lived since. She worked for years as a bartender, and many people recall her as the head bartender and partner at the Big Steer bar in Patagonia.
Though slender, she has always been strong, with an ability to respond quickly, sometimes stopping troublemakers by vaulting over the bar, grabbing the offender and pushing or pulling him out the door.
In one incident, when a bully started beating up a man who already had a broken jaw, Rhonda jumped onto the back of the attacker, wrapped her long legs around his waist, pinned his arms behind his back, and stayed there for a few minutes until he managed to shake her off. Then customers rushed to tell her that the police had been called. The
next day, a policeman she knew smiled as he said to her, “Rhonda, thanks for all your help, but next time call us.”
She has also become known as our area’s sign painter. Almost every business here has a sign painted by Rhonda. She has painted the lettering on fire trucks. Two years ago she painted a sign for the “Town of Patagonia Marshal’s Office” with brown lettering on a purple background. Marshal Joe Patterson told her he liked the purple sign, she says, but most all other police officers strongly disliked it. A few months ago, Marshal Joe was pleased to tell Rhonda that the new color in 2019 for domestic violence awareness
is purple. He had sent a photo of her sign to the state governor’s office, and Patagonia’s law enforcement office has the honor of being the first to use the color purple!
She developed painting skills while in “art college,” classes she took while in prison for two years, from 2010-2012 for transporting marijuana, hidden in her trunk underneath her
laundry. While in prison she kept a daily journal and, when released in 2012, she self-published a book about her life in prison, titled “Laundry Day.”
She was frequently seen riding her bicycle in town, carrying a backpack filled with copies of her book, selling them to people along the way. Many of her buyers were police and border patrol, ironically including her arresting officer.
Recently retired from her job at the Wild Horse Restaurant, she continues to paint and experiment with art, exploring new subjects and materials that she finds or that “come to her.”
Rhonda’s story of becoming an artist began with a childhood fascination with drawing. She has painted portraits, winning an award in an art show in Nogales for her painting of actor
Gene Wilder as young Frankenstein.
She is now is enjoying the challenge of expressing ideas through images. She says that she waits until she suddenly sees, or sometimes dreams about, how to represent them. “Each
painting is a test of whatever medium I’ve chosen, “she says. “It’s all part of learning. I like to experiment. I’m teaching myself to create art. I like variety and wonder how I can get a certain effect.”
Rhonda’s mind moves quickly to the heart of any topic, and she can condense her view into a few insightful words, with a laugh. Her explosive laughter, which she says was inherited
from her mother, is her trademark. She has faced frightening situations in her life with admirable courage, retaining her sense of humor through difficult times, and using painful experiences to fuel her creativity.