Kelly Yarbough is a person who represents the Flint Hills and all of its beauty in a way that makes people around the Manhattan area proud to be surrounded by this natural wonder.
Born and raised in Plano, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, Yarbough was never really exposed to the same type of nature that she constantly surrounds herself with in Kansas.
“There was farmland, however it was constantly being eaten up by new development,” explains Yarbough. “Nature always seemed like something else that you had to go find somewhere else. Most people in North Texas were not exposed to what the native grasslands were like before everything was developed.”
Even though Yarbough was not exposed to the grasslands she paints now, she has been drawing and creating for as long as she can remember. “I was always encouraged to explore with the tools I had at my disposal, so I did a lot of drawing, creating things and imagining things. It has always been a part of my life,” Yarbough said.
After high school, Yarbough studied and received her undergraduate degree at a small liberal arts school called Austin College, where she was then even further pushed to be creative with her artwork. Yarbough said she had a professor “who was really grouchy and straightforward,” who she then worked for a bit, and ended up getting her MMFA at Kansas State University.
“There was a few years gap between my undergrad and grad school,” explains Yarbough. “I got to work for a while, and figure out if art was truly something I wanted to dedicate myself to and figure out what that would feel like.” She also lived in Kansas City, specifically the Westport area, which she explains really opened her eyes to different kinds of art.
She also went on an art-in residency in Colorado, which inspired her to be the director of an art residency in the Flint Hills. “We started that program in 2016 when I was finishing up grad school here, and that kind of just started as an idea with some of the people in the region, but it ended up being this really cool program, where we have kind of connected dots between some regional partners in order to bring eight different artists to the prairie region,” says Yarbough. This program is funded by The Kansas Creative Arts Industry Commission, which is the Kansas State Art Commission. They also work very closely in the community with the people of Hatfield Green, Kansas, which is a very small town with about sixty people.
Their primary partner, however, is where the art residency takes place, called the Bank Art Space. It is an old bank building that has found a “new life” as a contemporary art gallery.
Nowadays, Yarbough is very busy with her jobs, and works almost everyday as an advocate for the art world in Kansas. She serves as the director of community programming for Prairiewood Retreat & Preserve in Manhattan and is a regional representative for the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission.
If you would like to check out her work and will be around the Kansas City area, Yarbough will be displaying her art at the Thornhill Gallery at Avila University.
If you are interested in the Tallgrass Artist Residency, they seek to create connection and conversation across the Great Plains through engagement with the prairie ecosystem.
Visit their website https://tallgrassartistresidency.org/ to learn more!