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Local artist explores art, culture

Janet Browning continues to merge a love of art with an appreciation for other cultures in her teaching. (Photo by Whitney S. Williams)


From an early age, Janet Browning knew she wanted to pursue art as a career.

“I was always encouraged by my family. I remember my first ‘portraits,’ ” Browning said. “They would be of my family around the Thanksgiving table when I was 4 years old. My family made a big deal of them. It was so encouraging, so I continued to take art throughout grade school.”

Browning, who teaches several classes at the McKinney Center, including charcoal portraits and beading, did not stop her pursuit of perfecting her art in grade school. In high school, she had an art teacher, Paul Rupert, who realized her talent. He allowed her to work separately from the rest of the art class, introducing her to more complicated medias and methods.

“When I saw the effort he was making to help me become a better artist, it led me to pursue the arts as a living,” Browning said.

In college, she majored in figure drawing as well as oil painting and received her degree in Art and Education from East Tennessee State University.

She also spent time at the Art Students League in New York City.

After her studies, Browning taught art in the public school system for seven years, before founding ArtSmart Inc., which is an after-school art enrichment program that later became KidSmart.

This program operated in eight states and employed more than 100 teaching artists.

“This program was able to reach so many more students than I would have ever been able to reach in just one school,” Browning said of her impactful program. “The program allowed me to share my love and appreciation of art to a much wider group of people.”

Browning also owns and operates Hands Around the World, a store on Jonesborough’s historic Main Street that sells art from around the world that Browning purchases during several trips each year.

“My other love is travel, where I get to discover more about the cultures of the world, especially traditional ones.” She says she has always been interested in people — their culture, their lives, their faces –—  and Hands Around the World helps her share the art from these cultures with people in this community.

Tying off the last thread to a necklace she has just completed while sitting in her shop, surrounded by artwork she has brought back from Ecuador and Nepal, she looks up and smiles.

“The best is when I get to mix both my love of travel and my love of art.”

Browning brings her experiences of art, travel, and culture to the McKinney Center this spring, where she will teach classes in portraiture and beading. Registration is still open for these classes this week, with an early bird discount of $10 per class through Thursday, Dec.21.

For more information about Janet Browning’s classes, contact Theresa Hammons at [email protected]

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