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Painting the “Cow Kids”


By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

You never know what interest a photo published in the Mid-South Horse Review might spark in readers. Artist Nancy McEnaney of Oakland, Tenn. saw Gary Cox’s photo of the young cowboy at the Tennessee Youth Rodeo in our September 2021 issue and was inspired to paint him. She contacted the Mid-South Horse Review and Gary Cox and got that permission. And so the painting was completed in just a few days, much to the delight of the young cowboy’s parents who bought the painting. McEnaney specializes in western and animal art, and this is one in a series of young “Cow Kids” she is painting.

Nancy likely “inherited” her artistic talent from her forebears. “My mother and her brothers were all very artistic, but never pursued any type of artistic careers. I had an uncle who could paint anything. My uncles were artistic in other ways, too; they were carpenters and could create beautiful cabinets, etc.” She has a couple of portraits her mother did in colored pencil: one of a cowboy done in 1935 and another of a cowgirl cone in 1937. “All members of that side of my family were artistic,” she said. Her sister has artistic talent, too, and puts hers into creating stained glass works.

Nancy was interested in painting a series of “Cow Kids” since she has a background in trick riding in rodeo. But the real rodeo talent in her family is her husband Bill, who rodeoed from age 14, joined the PRCA in 1957, and didn’t stop the rodeo circuit until he was “pushing 70,” Nancy said. Bill taught Nancy how to trick ride and she traveled to rodeos trick riding with him.

“Rodeo life requires fearless nature” was the title of a 2010 article in the Review Atlas, describing “Rodeo Clown Bill McEnaney, who was a participant before he became a clown. He’s 70 and has been to eight countries, performing in Madison Square Garden and at the Montreal World’s Fair.”

American Cowboy magazine published an article about McEnaney’s career in their Sep. – Oct. 1997 issue titled, “Man in the can is a team player.” Author Fred Sedahl wrote: He was first “one of the best trick and fancy riders – and trick roper – in the business, and then spent the remainder of his rodeo career as one of the top barrel clowns in rodeo.” Early in his life, Bill and his sister JoAnn learned trick riding from Miss White. And by age 14, with his sister at age 16, the teens were traveling to rodeos performing as the Shamrock Kids. He later traveled on his own, performing his trick riding act at rodeos all over the country.

“Then a career change came in 1977 at a rodeo in Asheville, NC, when Lecile Harris’ rodeo clown had been badly burned in an accident and Lecile, lead bull fighter, needed a replacement quickly. Lecile asked, ‘Bill do you remember telling me some time ago that you’d like to put on makeup and get in the barrel,’ McEnaney recalled. McEnaney answered yes and Lecile said, ‘Well, tonight’s the night.’ And that was the beginning of his career as a barrel man, teaming with Lecile Harris.”

Nancy and Bill have been married for 52 years and spent 49 of them living in Fayette County, Tenn. They lived on a farm in Rossville and then moved to a farm in Whiteville, Tenn. Recently, they have downsized from farmland to a subdivision house north of Oakland, Tenn. But to keep perspective, Nancy has a very comfortable screened back porch that provides a beautiful view of her yard and flowers and the hummingbird feeder, which attracts lots of hummingbirds. She has two chickens (she had four, but gave away two), who regularly come to visit at the door to see what’s going on. Just beyond her yard is a view of the woods on a portion of the 90 acres owned by her neighbor, who plans to keep the land undeveloped. No next door subdivision houses are visible from this view, so sitting on the porch gives the perspective of farmland and space. 

Nancy has one grown daughter, Laura, who is a nurse at Methodist Hospital in Germantown and lives in Byhalia, Miss.
Now that her rodeo traveling days and child rearing have been completed, Nancy, still svelte, has entered the next phase of her life – painting. “I groomed dogs from the time I was 14 years old. I retired 2½ ago and began to devote time to my painting. Finally I could pursue something I waited a long time to do!” she said.

“I’ve always wanted to garden and paint. I started seriously painting in 2018, and it takes a lot of time. I paint every day and sometimes all night” when she can’t sleep, she said. She primarily paints in acrylics and likes their fast drying time. She started out painting in oils, but found the slower drying time and, mainly, the fumes in the air a medium she could do without. She has done pastel work and can work with charcoal, but acrylics are her preference. “You can get rich colors from acrylics,” she explained. She paints from photographs that she likes, often with a western theme, but also birds. She likes the photos that Larry Coley, a Germantown photographer, takes. She has an impressive painting of one of his photos of three doves sitting on a backyard fence. Her next projects will be to paint photographs by Wyoming photographer Kirstie Lambert.

The “Cow Kids” series started with paintings she did of Fisher Ann Rinehart and her horse Buddy. She has since done several Cow Kids paintings and nearly all have sold. She plans to do more in the series and has a goal of ten paintings to complete in this theme. She had originally planned to display them, appropriately, at the Rodeo Café in Holly Springs, Miss., which opened in January 2020. But COVID-19 took its toll on the restaurant business and nixed that plan. The restaurant is now back open, so Nancy may still get to realize her plan.

Gary Cox’s photo is the latest she’s done in the series and she’s still on the lookout for more potential subjects. “If a photograph catches my eye, I can usually paint it. I know whether I can pick up what I want from the photograph,” she said. She has recently joined the Memphis/Germantown Art League and you can view some of her paintings at their website: In the meantime, enjoy the “Cow Kids.”
Neal, Ryan. 2010. “Rodeo Life Requires Fearless Nature.” Review Atlas. Jul. 30
Sedahl, Fred. 1997. “Man in the Can is a Team Player.” American Cowboy. Sep.-Oct.,+rodeo&source=bl&ots=Fhuy5sK-Ie&sig=ACfU3U02gPPpiyiyIf76obIaJ21asVRdnw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiJhobhi4LzAhXemmoFHT0eBoAQ6AF6BAgNEAM#v=onepage&q=Bill%20McEnaney%2C%20rodeo&f=false

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