If you have walked down Main Street, you’ve surely noticed the vibrant shop called Hands Around the World — where a cultural experience and a story tags along with each item sold.
Baskets woven by the Yekuana Tribe from Venezuela, hand carved turquoise placed in sterling silver rings from Peru and handmade nativity scenes from all areas of the world fill the store. Each item is created from artists in small villages from various regions of the world, each telling the story of that culture.
Janet Browning, owner of Hands Around the World, is a true traveler. Her story began in an Indian village deep in the Amazon where she met an artist selling his work. “It was a traditional sculpture, the one of a snake that is being caught by a bird.” Browning said. “The artist had a very detailed piece of art, almost to the grotesque point, with blood dripping down the fingernails of the bird and all that kind of stuff. But it was a wonderful work of art and I talked to him about it and ooed and awed.”
“This was a motif that a lot of people did so I found one that was simpler and more modern and I bought it. I saw his face when he saw me with the other one and it was obvious he was devastated. He just had it in his mind that I was going to come back and buy that from him. And it made me think how important that sell would have been to him.” Browning continued. “It made me think about how they probably sit there all day and sell little to nothing, ya know? So, I said to my daughter, “Someday, I would like to come back here and buy everything that someone’s made. I want to make a difference for that one person.” About six months later that is exactly what Browning did.
Browning bought a great big hippie van and began traveling all across the southeast — and broke down all across the southeast.
She was living her dream by selling items bought while traveling to numerous exotic locations.
Continuing this tradition, Browning then opened Hands Around the World in 2001. Now, she is expanding Hands Around the World by offering travel experiences to the public.
Using her expertise, Browning plans the entire trip for you but also allows flexibility. It will give the opportunity to spend a day with a local family, see how they live and what their life is like.
“You can go to these islands and it is real touristy.” Browning said. “They make boats out of reeds that you can ride on and such. But I told one of my guides I wanted to go to an Island where it wasn’t like that. I just want a family that lives a little away and see how they fish, gather reeds, make things with the reeds, and all about how they live. We came back with a real knowledge of those people.” The trips are designed to give a true taste of that culture- delve into it and truly experience it.
“Typically, you’re the tourist and there’s the people —I want to mesh those. My business lets me do that,” Browning said. “The most rewarding part is going back and visiting the same people.”
Browning believes travel changes people for the better because they’re not just seeing the American point of view. She strives to honor cultures that are disappearing and to provide people with an outlook on tradition and unique ways of life.
Just a few of the destinations Browning has on the list for the future will be Nepal and Tibet in August, Spain, Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, Panama, New Zealand, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and even perhaps an African Safari.
On top of it all, Browning is an accomplished artist. You can stop in Hands Around the World on Main Street and see some of her work or sign up for her class charcoal portrait class at the McKinney center for the fall.
If you would like more information on taking a trip call Janet at 423-737-1496, email her at [email protected], or stop by our shop, Hands Around the World at 111 East Main St., Jonesborough.
Or be a part of Janet’s story by taking one of her Charcoal Portraits From Photography Class or joining in on one of the Beading workshops at the McKinney Center. For more information contact Theresa Hammons at [email protected] or call 423-753-0562.