Francis Elliott became emotional while recently visiting Orange Leaf yogurt shop in Seymour.

While looking at a community mural painted on the wall by Jennifer Morris, the longtime farmer spotted Martha Mae in the bottom left corner. His granddaughter, Nora Silence, showed that 11-year-old Jersey dairy cow at the Jackson County Fair for the past 10 years.

Elliott put his hand up to his mouth and looked down. That’s when his daughter, Lee Ann Silence, told Morris he was crying.

Morris said it took her two-and-a-half hours to paint that cow, and it may have been the most challenging part of the mural. But it was all worth it after seeing Elliott’s reaction.

Story continues below gallery

“Lee Ann texted me later and said, ‘I have to tell you my dad doesn’t cry. He never cries,’” said Morris, 48. “She said I have to know that represented something so deep for him. His love for his farm, his love for his profession, his love for the cows, it just really represented his heart. It was just the epitome of his life’s work. That was huge for me.”

Lee Ann Silence said she was honored when Morris asked about including Martha Mae in the mural.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Silence said. “It’s amazing to see that. It was just a nice tribute. I just look at that and think how talented someone is to be able to do that.”

Recently completed by Morris, the mural features iconic images of Jackson County.

There’s the Seymour library, a covered bridge, Schneck Medical Center, the Jackson County Visitor Center, Blish Mill and Southern Indiana Center for the Arts. There are signs for Brownstown Speedway, Fort Vallonia, Freeman Field, Seymour Oktoberfest and the Jackson County Fair, along with Seymour’s new welcome sign.

Also pictured are a Ferris wheel and purple fair

ribbon; a cornfield, tractor and barn; deer and geese

at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge; a guitar representing Seymour native John Mellencamp; flowers representing 2009 Miss America Katie Stam Irk; and the Reno Gang.

And since the mural is at the yogurt shop, there is an Orange Leaf bowl.

Community murals have become a trend for Orange Leaf, said Trixie Deaton, general manager of the Seymour store.

“They wanted Orange Leaf to be a gathering spot in the community and something that everybody would enjoy, so they started painting the murals with the community suggestions of what represents the area,” she said. “Now, it’s one of Orange Leaf’s main pillars, and the murals are unique to each Orange Leaf in the community.”

Customers were asked on Facebook what they would like to see in the mural, and Deaton received a lot of responses.

“Everything that is on the wall is what the community said that they wanted to see up there,” she said.

Deaton is not from the area, so she said she learned a lot about the people and places depicted in the mural.

“It has been really unique listening to the stories and watching it come together,” she said. “We’re excited to hear stories (customers) may continue to share or something new we didn’t know, so it’s really going to be fun to watch the community come in and see this.”

In the summer, Orange Leaf hosted musical entertainment outside in front of the store. Later on, the county schools will be painting canvases to include on another wall in the store.

“This is just the start to make sure we get the community involved,” Deaton said.

This wasn’t Morris’ first time painting at Orange Leaf. She also painted the store’s windows for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October and Christmas.

When Deaton learned about the community murals going up in the stores, she knew who to contact. Morris is known in the area for her painting skills.

Shortly after being hired as a cake decorator at Jay C Food Store in Scottsburg 20 years ago, Morris was asked to paint the windows of the store.

“Before I knew it, within about two years, I was doing about 12 of the Jay C stores,” Morris said. “I went from French Lick to Charlestown. I just went everywhere.”

Other area businesses learned about her skills, and painting became her full-time job.

“At my peak, before I went back to nursing school, I was doing 40 to 44 businesses a year for Christmas all in this area,” Morris said.

When the recession hit in 2009, Morris’ art business was affected, so she went to nursing school part time and painted part time.

The Orange Leaf mural is her first conglomerate. Since she is originally from southern California and has lived in Seymour for 18 years, Morris had to do some research on the mural’s elements.

“As soon as I was called in and asked to do it, it’s kind of like I saw what I was going to do,” she said. “I then did some research and added some things to it just because I felt like I wanted to make it the best that I could make it because I didn’t know when I would be painting again. I always want to do my best anyway.”

Morris said she freehanded most of the images, but for some of the buildings and signs, she used carbon paper to transpose the image onto the wall.

“I’m a real stickler about wanting it to look exactly like it’s supposed to look,” she said.

Morris had six paintbrushes on hand, but she said she used two of them the most. She used acrylic paint since it dries fast, and once she was done, she applied a polycoat to protect the mural.

In all, Morris put in more than 20 hours of work, painting a few hours each day she was at the store.

“I’m OK with it. I’m probably my worst critic,” she said with a smile. “But it turned out well.”

Morris is now focused on her schoolwork. She plans on receiving her associate degree in nursing from Ivy Tech Community College in Madison in December, and she will earn her bachelor’s degree 15 months later.

“If you haven’t been through nursing school, it’s unbelievable. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. “I will study 30 to 40 hours outside of the classroom, and when you are carrying 12 to 15 credits, it’s really, really hard to balance a family, much less a full-time job.”

Once she is done with school, Morris said she wants to go into art therapy, a form of psychotherapy using painting and drawing as a remedial activity.

“There’s a lot of healing in art,” she said. “When you get stressed, you love to paint, and it’s very relaxing and makes the hours pass, and you just kind of forget everything else. It’s no different for somebody that doesn’t do it professionally. If you sit down and you have the right tools, the right support, right encouragement, it can really make a dire or bleak situation look better for someone that’s maybe undergoing something pretty serious physically.”

Morris expects art to always be a part of her life.

“I don’t want to let it go,” she said. “There’s always an avenue. There’s always something you can do with it. I feel very, very strongly that this is a gift from God, and I give the Lord all the credit for it. I feel really blessed to be able to do this.”

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.