Jan Pugh passing torch at Packer Creek PotteryWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Jan Pugh’s name has been synonymous with Packer Creek Pottery for the past 34 years. Royalty, former first ladies and comedians are among the famous owners of her brightly colored clay creations.
In November, Pugh quietly handed over the reins of the Genoa shop to longtime employee Julie Harbal, but is quick to reassure local fans she’s not leaving and nothing they love about the shop will change.
“I think people won’t really notice anything happened,” Pugh said. “Julie will be doing [the business side]. It’s her baby now. She’s got all the financial investment. I will be here to make sure the business runs as smoothly as usual, to keep the continuity.
“Really most people don’t know it’s occurred and we won’t be necessarily publicizing it. A couple people found out and they’re asking about it. We called the press because we wanted to reassure people. They were worried I was going to go away.”
The 58-year-old Pugh plans to continue to be a face at the shop.
“I am getting older. Teachers retire, CEOs retire and usually the business goes on if you do your job right,” Pugh said. “I really have such a passion for doing pots still and with Julie taking over, that’s the best of both worlds for me because I can still do the art and not have the headache and demand and rigors of running a business. It’s going to still be the same, just not where I have to worry about all the little details of a business. It’s kind of nice to step back from that and still carry on with making the pots; it’s like getting to cook and eat dinner and not have to clean up.”
Pugh has known Harbal for about 20 years. When Harbal was 14, she called Pugh’s store every week to ask if she was hiring. Genoa is a small, close-knit community. Pugh knew Harbal’s mother since high school, when Pugh was a freshman and Harbal’s mother was a senior. Pugh’s father said, “Give the girl a break” and Pugh finally gave her a job, they said.
Harbal worked at the shop throughout high school, during college summers and after college. She earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Bowling Green State University with a focus in 3-D objects and textiles.
Her specialty at the shop is decorating the clay pieces. She also has an MBA from BGSU and is responsible for the books, something she’s already been doing for quite some time. In the early days, Pugh’s mother did the job.
“The pottery here is so lovely to use and brings people a lot of cheer. It uplifts their spirit. … I look at this as an opportunity to grow the brand that’s already here,” Harbal said. “It truly is to continue the legacy of the business. The intention is not to make too many changes.”
One change Harbal plans to make is to post inventory on the shop’s website for online orders.
“You just couldn’t turn it over to anyone and I feel comfortable that Julie will take the care that I had,” Pugh said.
The White House
Pugh’s reputation has reached around the world, including into the White House. In 1993, she received a letter requesting an angel for a Christmas tree in the Blue Room and stating that she should tell no one about the request.
Pugh recalls wondering how, before the blossoming of the Internet in 1995, did the White House find an artist out of Genoa, Ohio, who could make a clay angel? The angel had to be a certain height and weight and fit into a certain sized box. It is now stored in the National Archives.
Another year, a Junior League chapter contacted Pugh on behalf of former first lady Barbara Bush. Pugh ended up crafting an oval platter whose pattern was originally called Blue Cabbage Rose and which she renamed Barbara Bush Rose. The platter was used at a luncheon for heads of state, Pugh said.
Other celebrities who own pieces of pottery made by Pugh include Jerry Seinfeld, Julie Andrews, Queen Noor of Jordan, Cokie Roberts, Jamie Farr, Katie Holmes and more, according to the shop’s website.
Recipe for success
Pugh credits her parents for her success. They owned a plumbing supply business in Genoa.
“My mom saw someone making pottery on TV. She said, ‘Jan, you should come see this,’” Pugh said.
She tried guitar and ballet but fell in love with clay and art, which led her to take a night class at the Toledo Museum of Art. Her mother would drive her there from their home in Genoa and sit in the car working by the dome light while Pugh was in the classroom, Pugh said.
It was 1970. Pugh was 14 and they put her right on the potter’s wheel. She loved it, she said.
She didn’t want to go to college, but enrolled at the Rochester Institute of Technology where she earned her associate’s degree in art. While there, she decided to make her art functional.
Pugh continued school at the Kansas City Art Institute where she earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts degree. At the time, the popular pottery of the ’70s was earthy tones, not the bright colors she liked.
With no money after college, she moved in with her parents and worked out of a one-room shop next door to a pizza store where the janitor would help her by firing up her kiln.
She waited tables until pottery created enough demand that she could quit her day job and focus on it full-time. In 1980, she opened Packer Creek Pottery, named after a creek that winds its way through the town of Genoa.
Asked where she comes up with her distinctive patterns, Pugh said: “The part of my brain that doesn’t cook.” In other words, that creative, imaginative side.
Pugh, Harbal and a team of trusted artisans create dozens upon dozens of patterns in bright colors that are painted onto mugs, plates, platters, table-top tiles, clocks, lamps, mirrors, picture frames, ornaments, magnets and more.
Customers can shop the retail space or take a scheduled tour of the 5,000 square-foot workshop across the street. There, they can see the process each piece takes from moist clay to the fire-glazed final product.
Packer Creek holds exclusive rights to its formula for its clay and glazing, Pugh said, and the process will not change under Harbal.
“You just fall in love with it,” Harbal said of the pottery, while watching employee Bethany Deluca at the pottery wheel. “It’s a passion for me. I feel it’s an honor to continue on the legacy.”
Packer Creek Pottery, 103 E. 8th St., in Genoa, will hold an open house April 11-13. For more information, visit www.packercreekpottery.com.
Tags: Barbara Bush, Bowling Green State University, Cokie Roberts, erry Seinfeld, Genoa, Jamie Farr, Jan Pugh, Julie Andrews, Kansas City Art Institute, Katie Holmes, kiln, Packer Creek Pottery, pottery, Queen Noor of Jordan, The White House, Toledo Museum of Art