For over 32 years, Jan Pugh has been the face of Packer Creek Pottery.
Effective last November, Pugh is no longer the owner, but she plans to remain “the face” of the nationally renowned majolica pottery shop in Genoa.
The 58-year-old Pugh, a 1974 Genoa High School graduate, has passed the torch by selling the business to 2000 GHS graduate Julie Harbal. The two have a long history together.
“Julie has worked here really a very long time, since she was quite young — a freshman or sophomore in high school,” Pugh said. “It’s kind of a cute story. She would call every day and every week, and my dad finally said, ‘Why don’t you finally give the kid a chance? Let her have a job.’ We did, and she was very good at painting and she didn’t mind getting dirty, which with some kids that’s an issue.”
|At Packer Creek Pottery, Bethany Deluca, seated, does slab
work while new owner Julie Harbal, standing, left, and Jan Pugh
look on. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
After graduating from GHS, Harbal attended Bowling Green State University, graduating with bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a focus on three-dimensional studies in 2004. She completed an MBA at BGSU in their professional program in 2011 and was an interior designer at the university for the last eight years.
“I think she has a lot of ability artistically and she’s great with people,” Pugh said. “She has a business background, which is a very good thing for an artist to have, especially if you’re going to turn your art into a business.
“And, she’s young — that’s the other thing. I’m not as young anymore, so I’m kind of going, ‘Well, how do we reach the young people anymore?’ She’s got some great ideas for the future. She’s got great ideas for marketing, such as online, which was never an area that I was ever very good at.”
Pugh stresses this is a period of transition and she will still remain on the scene — maybe even more so. She says Packer Creek will offer the same great product and her name will remain attached to it.
“What I would like to emphasize is that I’m going to be here, and people can still come in and find me,” Pugh said. “My job is not like Julie’s is, where she is running the help and crunching the numbers. Now, I get to be what I’ve always wanted to be, creating art, and I get to sort of be the shop hostess. Because people come in and I get to talk to everybody, which I kind of like to do.
“I’m really happy about the situation,” Pugh continued. “It’s like if you adopt out a child. I still have visitation rights. I still get to be part of the life of the business.”
Pugh said another former Genoa business owner told her “that people were so upset about me selling our business. That just really shocked me because a lot of people get to my age and end the business. They sell the building, they sell the equipment, and they move away. I want to still be a vital part of it.”
Decisions on the fly
Pugh said she trusts Harbal to be involved in the business decisions.
“I’m used to just making business decisions on the fly — ‘Yes, no, and yes, no.’ Now, I want to make sure Julie wants to do this (decision). I’d be up all night thinking about something, and now she gets to think about it,” Pugh said. “She also has me and I now have her. We are a team. Before, it was just me.”
Their backgrounds follow similar path.
Pugh began working with pottery at the age of 14. Her love for working with clay led her to study at the Toledo Museum of Art, and from there she turned her love into a profession, founding Packer Creek Pottery in 1980.
As a youth, Pugh began taking classes at the Toledo Artists Club on Collingwood in an old building that has long since been taken down. Too young to drive, she caught a ride with a friend, Bill Nolte of Genoa, who was also taking art classes at the time. During his career, Nolte appeared on Broadway, in Cats and other productions.
Pugh went on to receive her associate of art degree from the School for American Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where her desire to make truly functional forms began, she said. She continued her studies at the Kansas City Institute, exploring all phases of ceramics and receiving her bachelor of fine arts degree.
Harbal, who nearly every year returned to Packer Creek during the Christmas rush to help, did an emerging art show with an associate in 2005, displaying paintings and textiles. Her job at BGSU in interior design and as a project manager took much of her time.
“I’ve always loved to make things, and I’ve been doing art ever since I can remember, and I just love the pottery shop,” Harbal said. “I’ve been working here since I was 14. I just found the product and the process and it’s a passion of mine to not only make things, but to then to make them on this scale and to deliver handmade beautiful objects to the customers.
“I’m maybe not an anomaly, because I kind of think artists are basically entrepreneurs at their core. Business and art I’m just totally interested in and both are passions of mine. I feel like this is such an opportunity and honor to continue on the legacy that Jan has built. I just feel really blessed for the opportunity.”
Harbal said becuase the holiday rush is over, it’s time to look ahead.
“We kind of picked this up at the busy time of the holidays, which was really great,” Harbal said. “It was a phenomenal holiday season. It was great to get to know some of the customers and great to get to know the staff just a little bit better, and see how talented everybody is.
“Now that things have sort of calmed down a little bit, we’re just starting to brainstorm some ideas. We are working on a website and we hope to launch that in late Spring. Some of the other stuff we’re just kind of in the brainstorming session. Janet and I have been talking about a lot of different new things.”
Pugh interjects, “Yeah, like how we can showcase things differently in the showroom. Because she has an interior design background that really adds to having a showroom and the ability to display things so they are more appealing to the eye.”
Packer Creek’s majolica pottery can be found adorning many local homes and businesses, along with museums, galleries, and shops near and far — and in the homes of many celebrities including Julie Andrews, Barbara Bush, Bob and Elizabeth Dole, Cokie Roberts, Jamie Farr, Katie Holmes and Edward James Olmos. Pugh is also proud to say her handiwork has been displayed in the White House.
The business, which Pugh says would never have succeeded if not for her parents, won a Prism Award in 2001. Kelly Hancock, a Hart Associates employee who handles Packer Creek’s public relations, says little will change.
“It’s a transition. It’s a change, but it’s designed so that the brand can carry on and continue the legacy,” Hancock said. “It’s not so much about Jan and Julie and how they work individually, but continuing to do what they do.”