For the past decade, Rhonda Bunyan's passion for art has been intrinsically linked with Stratford's Percy Thomson Art Gallery.
From starting as a volunteer at the gallery to becoming the gallery director, as well as exhibiting her own work in the gallery space and encouraging many other artists, both emerging and experienced, to do the same, Rhonda's love of art has never waned.
After six years as gallery director, Rhonda is now retiring from the role at the end of January but says she isn't giving up her passion for either the gallery or art.
"I've put my heart and soul into this job but I know now is the right time to go. It's better to leave a job while you still love it."
She and her husband are moving to their property in Okato where Rhonda plans to spend more time on her own artistic endeavours.
"Laurence and I have a property there. I've moved a portable classroom on as my studio and will use the time to explore my own creativity in photography."
Rhonda moved to Stratford from Whanganui 25 years ago and started volunteering at the Percy Thomson Art Gallery 10 years ago, becoming gallery director six years ago.
"I felt the gallery was a real asset for Stratford and knew I'd enjoy helping out here."
Over the years she has spent at the gallery, it has hosted about 180 exhibitions, each one bringing something unique, she says.
"We can hang around 18 exhibitions in a year by either utilising the gallery as a big space or dividing it into two."
It's always a special feeling to see people's reactions when walking into the gallery for the first time says Rhonda.
"People who visit the gallery for the first time are amazed that in Stratford we have such a modern art space with state of the art climate control and security features."
Those state of the art features have enabled the gallery to host top-tier exhibitions, she says.
"We were able to host Rodin's Eve, Gordon Walters, and New Zealand touring exhibitions such as the Toss Woollaston exhibition. Another highlight was the 'I am Woman' exhibition to celebrate 100 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand with guest Georgina Beyer."
One of the highlights of Rhonda's time at the gallery is having the Stratford Art Society have two exhibitions each year.
"The Stratford Art Society helped to create the vision and was part of the planning process of the Percy Thomson Art Gallery. It allows the members to showcase their work in a local modern gallery, and keeps the Stratford Arts Society vibrant and strong."
Supporting young artists has been a major focus for Rhonda in her time at the gallery.
"I'm a very strong believer in supporting our Taranaki young emerging artists which we do through the annual Emergence Awards. We also do this by inviting the schools to have a look at the exhibitions, which inspires our youth. I find talking to children is so fulfilling. They're very honest with their opinions on art."
Rhonda says she has also worked on creating more connections between individual artists as well as showcasing work from specific groups and cultures.
While working at the gallery, Rhonda's focus has been creating more connections.
"I've seen connections form over my time here and it's made me so happy. Another goal of mine was to showcase more artwork from talented Māori artists. I believe it's important to celebrate their work and an artist from Pātea has been helpful in doing that."
Rhonda says she's thankful for the support she's received while being gallery director.
"I'd like to thank my assistant, Amy Taunt, the work she's put in is amazing and I'm grateful to have her by my side. I'd also like to thank the Percy Thomson Art Gallery Trust and the Stratford District Council for their support."
Rhonda says when it comes to her own art, she has benefited from the constant support of her husband.
"He's allowed me to be the creative crazy I am and always told me if I want to do something, to just go for it."
While Rhonda leaves her director role in January 2022, her influence and vision will continue to steer the gallery into the future, with a special exhibition organised by Rhonda scheduled for 2023.
"I wanted to organise one last thing for Stratford. I'm excited to announce a Rita Angus exhibition for 2023. I love Stratford. I've learned so much in this role, which has enabled me to grow as a gallery director. I'm going to miss Stratford and the gallery."
The gallery and Stratford will also miss Rhonda, says Percy Thomson Trust chairman Bruce Ellis.
"Rhonda has been terrific and a real treasure. Not only has she kept the mechanics of the gallery flicking along, but she's also developed great relationships with Taranaki artists.
"She's also developed good relationships with galleries such as Te Papa so we can put on exciting and challenging exhibitions.
"She's organised herself through the Covid-19 situation and has left the gallery in good shape. She's had good ideas such as Percy's Place as a retail outlet for artists. I often say as a trust our most important job is getting the right director and we've done exactly that with Rhonda. We will miss her dearly."