HighBrow Hippie Jessica Yelverton
By Jim Dodson • Photographs by Bert VanderVeen
At the top of a narrow staircase, late October sun falls like a benediction through the western window of a cozy room where a gray tiger cat named Britin keeps a calm, watchful eye on a visitor who has climbed the steps to meet with watercolor artist Jessica Yelverton.
“This room,” says the artist, known to her devoted website and Instagram followers as the HighBrow Hippie, “is my special place where I can think and work and create beautiful things for people. I always dreamed of having my own quiet space like this where I can do what I love best — create.”
This beautiful room, her working studio — on the second floor of a charming 1941 bungalow in Sunset Hills that the artist and her husband, Joel, purchased seven years ago and began artfully transforming — might well serve as a working metaphor for Yelverton’s life in general.
The youngest of four daughters of a Burlington Baptist minister and his wife who was home-schooled before she went off to earn an art degree at Bob Jones University, Yelverton is a beautiful paradox that becomes more compelling the closer you look at her creations.
She’s also no slouch as a writer. Her company website eloquently provides answers to her clever name:
“Why ‘HighBrow Hippie’? Well, to sum it up, I’m a questioner of the status quo but also a lover of tradition; a free spirit but entirely too snobby about my sheets to have participated in Woodstock. Authenticity is important to me — loving things truly for their own sake, not for the image they create or the box they help you fit within. It’s not bucking the trends or fitting right in, HighBrow Hippie is about the authentic juxtapositions of the things that call to your soul: classic, modern, highbrow, lowbrow, whatever they may be — it’s beauty for beauty’s sake.”
Four years ago, after almost a decade of working as a designer and sales rep in various quarters of the home furnishings industry and taking a master’s degree along the way, Yelverton heard the call of a muse that has summoned her since childhood.
“From as far back as I can remember, watercolor has been my favorite medium,” she explains. “I kind of closed the door on it for many years after college until one day I realized this is what I am meant to do. I decided to combine my love of fine fabrics and sewing with my art.”
As her website elaborates, “I fell in love with watercolor because of its wildness: the tension of suspended pigment in water . . . the balance of control and chaos. It’s how I paint and it’s how I want to live.”
With a gorgeous (and symbolically perfect) moth as her company logo, the artist’s first step into the commercial business world was to create elegant linen tea towels and decorative pillows printed with her original watercolors of flowers and other botanical themes.
Their acceptance with a growing audience inspired an expansion of her talents into several collections of original watercolor paintings and botanically-themed prints that have steadily grown her audience and customer base, a medium she calls “floriography.” Personalized stationery with her images came next, including a first holiday card with a timeless rendering of a traditional Christmas tree that sold like cozy slippers on Etsy.
This year, explore her website and find an equally stunning Christmas card featuring a stag called “Holly, Ivy & Antlers” that is sure to please her audience.
“I feel a special bond to them,” she says of her patrons, “because they seem to understand what it is I find so endlessly interesting about the immediate world around me — my garden, our house, even this studio.”
Back in April, feeling the need to turn her art to good purpose, she set off on a quest to produce a painting a day during the pandemic.
“I don’t really know where I got the idea,” she allows, “which was initially intimidating but also lots of fun.” She laughs and adds, “Somehow I did it and my audience really responded. It was a joyful month of creativity.”
Her curious eye captured everything from garden plants and herbs to vegetables and fruits, even items on her own gorgeous sketchpad. Every day she put a new work up for sale on her website for $50 apiece and sold them all within minutes. Half of the proceeds were donated to the Greensboro Chapter of Church World Service that works with refugees in the community “at a time when they are even more vulnerable due to the economic and COVID crisis.” Prints are still available on her website.
What’s next for this beguiling contradiction of the elegant Bohemian and classic artist with the highbrow tastes?
“I don’t know exactly,” she allows. “But that’s really the joy of what I am able to do now — to respond the only way I know best to such beauty around me.”
A selection of Jessica Yelverton’s works are available at the shop at GreenHill Center for North Carolina Art in Greensboro, Visual Index gallery in Winston-Salem and Mélange Arts Studio & Gallery in Greenville, SC. Visit her website at highbrowhippiestudio.com.