Lake Norman & Mooresville

At 70, Cotton Ketchie is quite the active artist, writer

Mooresville native Cotton Ketchie claims he doesn’t like change; however, talk to him a few minutes and a different picture emerges. Change drives Ketchie.

While working as a menswear buyer at the Belk department store in downtown Mooresville, Ketchie never lost a childhood interest in art. Eventually, he became a full-time artist and opened Landmark Galleries on North Main Street.

As his 70th birthday approached, Ketchie paused to reflect on his work and upcoming projects.

Getting the water-colorist, photographer and author to pause was not an easy task. Up at 3:30 a.m. or earlier every day, writing a post for three Facebook accounts, he’s a whirlwind of activity.

“I make it light, try to make people think, try to make it Will Rogers-y,” he said.

Seated at the computer, he switched from Facebook to the proof of his first children’s book, “The Perfect Christmas Eve.” As he scrolled through the pages, Ketchie began to read. The soft cadence of his words filled the small office. A poem that had been percolating for 42 years had come to fruition.

He pointed to the draft of “Another Time, Perhaps.” It’s a sequel to two other novels set in Love Valley. When his wife, Vickie, finishes editing the copy, he’ll send it to the publisher.

“She’s always right about how to do things,” Ketchie said.

Many people familiar with his paintings are surprised to learn he’s also a writer. But along with an interest in digital photography, writing is a logical extension of the artist’s creativity.

Switching to a screen of landmarks that no longer exist in Mooresville, Ketchie talked about plans for a book chronicling the town’s past.

“My mind is just bursting with ideas and things I need to get written down. I feel like I’m running out of time,” he said.

After spending a few moments with this “country boy,” as he refers to himself in memoirs, it’s obvious he loves North Carolina. He has traveled the state’s back roads capturing scenes and landmarks from the coast to the mountains.

“I’m trying to preserve our heritage through art, photography and literature,” Ketchie said.

His recent painting of the Harris barn on N.C. 3 is an example.

“It’s one of those scenes that you drive by and you cannot help but look at it,” he said.

He’s preserving other scenes as well. Cotton and Vickie have traveled to 48 states and seven Canadian provinces. Along the way, he’s documented their travels with photos and essays. “Cotton’s Maine Trip,” a travel guide, is a favorite.

“It’s like you’ve got a Southern boy riding in the car with you. You can’t get lost,” he said.

Throughout the conversation, Ketchie skipped references to any accolades, such as being selected to the 2004 N.C. Governor’s Conference on Tourism. His paintings hang in every N.C. Welcome Center.

Instead, he wanted to steer the talk in another direction. He and Vickie are committed to the work of the Mooresville/Lake Norman Exchange Club, an organization that improves the community through youth programs and projects promoting Americanism and the prevention of child abuse.

At a recent national meeting in New Orleans, members selected Ketchie as president-elect of the N.C. District Exchange clubs, a position he’ll hold for three years.

He’s also a member of the Mooresville/Lake Norman Rotary.

“I’m a passionate person about what I believe,” Ketchie said. “There’s so much to do in this world and so few seem interested in doing it.”

Along the way, he finds time to have fun. Ketchie, whose full name is Millard Vincent Ketchie Jr., got his nickname as a kid, because of his light-colored hair. “I was a tow-headed little kid with a cotton top,” he said.

On July 21, he celebrated his birthday.

As well-wishers stopped by the gallery for hugs and cake, Ketchie joined sidekick Stephen Brooks, a singer and song writer, for a rendition of “Friends.”

On this occasion, Cotton relinquished the camera to Vickie as each visitor posed for an official portrait with the “country boy.”

Kirk Ballard, president of the Mooresville/South Iredell Chamber, recounted childhood trips to Belk’s. While his dad shopped, Ballard looked at Ketchie’s book of paintings. Ballard described Ketchie as a great symbol of what one can achieve.

“He has followed his dream as an artist and proven you can be successful at it,” Ballard said.