New mural honors love of old soft drink

Walk around historic downtown Mooresville and you're sure to see the handiwork of artist Joel Morris.

His latest creation is nearly finished, and it complements downtown's nostalgic, retro charm.

The vibrant yellow, red, and green mural is on the side of Tullulah's, an antique store at the corner of Broad Street and Center Avenue.

The painting depicts a circa-1950s soft drink ad, and shows a bikinied blond sitting in a coffee cup next to a bottle of Sun-Drop.

Sisters Marsha Keener and Sheila Goodson, who own Tullulah's and the building, which dates back to the early 1900s, commissioned Morris to paint the mural.

Sheila said she and Marsha wanted to honor a local tradition - the Concord-based Sun-Drop Bottling Co. has been in operation since 1954 - and a cherished part of their childhood.

"Marsha and I always used to go to these little old country stores and reach way in the back of the drink coolers and grab the coldest bottle of Sun-Drop we could. It's just a great memory."

When selecting an artist to paint the mural, Sheila said Morris was an easy choice, as she and Marsha were already familiar with his work. Morris, who lives in Davidson and has a studio in Charlotte, has painted two other murals in downtown Mooresville.

The first one he did, in 2005, was for local businessman Bob Amon, who owns the building on S. Main St. that once housed Soiree, and now the Epic Chophouse. Morris said Amon is a classic car enthusiast, especially Franklin autos from the early 1900s, and they both thought the car would make for a great mural on the side of the building.

"I love collaborating with a client and helping them get where they want to go," said Morris.

That same year local real estate developer Tim Anderton commissioned Morris to paint an old-fashioned Coca-Cola ad on the side of a Broad Street building just north of Tullalah's.

Kim Atkins, executive director of the Mooresville Downtown Commission, said the murals make the downtown area look more lively and attractive, while keeping true to the area's historic character.

Morris, who grew up in Rutherford County in Forest City, said he's always loved to draw and paint. He graduated from Western Carolina University with a bachelor of fine arts, and for more than 30 years has worked as an artist, doing everything from murals and oil painting to sculptures. He settled in Davidson about 12 years ago, but continues to do most of his work out of his Charlotte studio.

He said it took him about eight weeks to do each Mooresville mural, working five to six hours a day. He starts by drawing the outline of the mural in charcoal, and then filling it in, adding layer upon layer of paint.

"It's physically demanding work," he said.

Morris said the Sun Drop mural is a composite of several different artifacts, including a 1950s-era clock that featured a picture of a girl sitting in a coffee cup, old signs they found online, and even some classic advertisements provided by John King, president and CEO of the Sun Drop Bottling Co.

"We took all these different things and put them together to come up with what I think is something pretty original."

While he loved the creative process of painting the murals, Morris said what was equally enjoyable was how folks would often stop by to chat and check on the progress of the paintings.

"It feels good to know people care about my work and that it brings them pleasure," he said.