Packham has always listened to her inner voice (which sounds a bit like
her mother's), and it has led her to build a rich, creative life for
herself - and for many others. Today, she is one of the most
recognized figures in the craft and how-to publishing
it all began with her mother's words that she could succeed at anything
she put her heart to.
Jo followed her heart, and her first
venture was a small art-supply store in Ogden, Utah, called Apple Arts.
Her degrees in Child Development and Art from the University of
California at Sacramento didn't quite prepare her for the vagaries of
retail sales, so she closed her store and launched the Vanessa-Ann
Collection in 1979, a cross-stitch book publishing
first publishing success grew into her next ambitious venture in 1986,
the creation of Chapelle Ltd, a co-publisher of arts-and-crafts books.
Today, Chapelle boasts more than 400 titles in instructional, gift,
gardening and lifestyle publications. Literally hundreds of leading
authors and designers achieved global recognition with Jo's support
through Chapelle publications.
Jo has written a small library of her own books as well - more than 40
titles so far, including Where
Women Create, Extraordinary
Touches for an Ordinary Day, Memories of a Lifetime Borders
& Frames, Decorate
Your Craft Space, Glue
and a series of wedding how-to books. She partnered with Pinnacle
Marketing in 2006 on a line of interactive DVD books, Create with the
Designers, and later formed Empire Road Productions, to
Chapelle Ltd. into web communities, magazines and other products.
never lost the retail bug, however, and in 2001, she and her daughter,
Sara Toliver, opened the first of three stores in her home town in
Utah, Ruby &
Begonia, specializing in gifts and home decor. This
was followed by The
White Fig, "a most unusual gift basket company,"
and then by Olive
& Dahlia, with its unique offering of garden
ornaments and fresh flowers.
A breakthrough event in Jo's career was organizing the 2005 arts and
crafts symposium, WomenCreate,
in which she showcased top artists in over 30 different craft mediums.
Supported and attended by crafters, industry executives and
took on a life of its own, affording Jo a new opportunity to bring
creative people together.
its companion book led to Jo's perhaps most daring venture, partnering
with Stampington & Company to create the quarterly magazine, Where Women Create,
in 2008. More than a magazine, Where
Women Create embraces the web community as well,
strengthening the global network of women artists.
to her inner voice, to the needs of her fellow artists, and to the
crafting marketplace has always led Jo to think big and take chances.
We are grateful to Jo for taking time from all that listening to talk
with us about her remarkable career, her influential books, and her
latest success, Where
began your career with a
retail store, and returned to retail many years later, partnering with
your daughter. What are some of the lessons you learned from running a
store that has helped you formulate your other businesses?
retail store teaches many things that can be used in other businesses.
Most important, I think, is concentrating on customer service, because
paying special attention to details makes an enormous difference in
earning return visits from customers. Second would have to be learning
to 'think outside of the box' with marketing to attract and keep
peoples' attention... so essential for survival. One other skill
necessary for retail stores in small towns that are not 'destinations'
is how to creatively manage a small budget and spend your money wisely.
Finally, and this is where we learned so much from our small store, how
to frugally leverage your assets. We used the store as the photo studio
for Chapelle Ltd, as well as for other photographers. It saved
my publishing company the cost of studio rentals and it provided a
constant flow of free and available photo props, turning it into a
second source of income."
Behind the scenes, you have been a trend-setting photo stylist,
creating books for artists like Sandra Evertson and Anna Corba. How do
you work with an artist to create
the perfect photo presentation?
"The scope of
my work with an artist depends on how skilled she is at photo styling
herself. Actually, I prefer to shoot where the artist lives, so she can
more easily create her own sets and props which helps make her
more confident in
her choices. I go
on all of the photo shoots but only as a technical director, because
often the artist is unfamiliar with certain technicalities of
photographing for publication.
"If the artist styles her own sets and is in charge of her own
photographs, she is more involved and committed to the entire
project. She'll spend much more time than I ever could. She understands
her product best and the final book has her imprint rather than a
combination of hers and mine, which always involves compromise and is
never as strong or sincere.
"With the magazine I do absolutely no styling what-so-ever. These
articles really are the artist’s story and her work. I don’t
feel I have the right to tell them how to present it. We select who we
feature because they are the very best at what they do... so I let them
do it. That has always proved to be much more successful for everyone."
seem to have more than a few
William Randolph Hearst genes. You have devoted yourself to all aspects
of publishing, always pushing the boundaries for your company and for
yourself. Where do you think that motivation came from?
"I think you are born with it... you are either an entrepreneur or you
aren't. You can’t teach that kind of passion and commitment. All of us
entrepreneurial spirits work endless hours for little pay simply
because we want to. When you have a great idea you have to create or
share, you don’t even think about the process really… you just do it.
It never occurs to you that it might not work or that you shouldn't
give it everything you've got. Being an entrepreneur is both a blessing
and a curse. There is so much good and bad attached to this word that
it can sometimes be overwhelming."
hundreds of craft and
lifestyle books in your catalog, we can imagine that these represent
just a handful of the books and ideas that are pitched to Chapelle
every year. What do you look for in an idea, manuscript or author that
really shows its publishing potential?
don’t receive as many proposals as you might think. The really good,
talented artists are sometimes afraid to submit. They are basically
insecure about presenting their work. The proposals we do receive are
usually from artists who are as gifted at marketing, or more so, than
"It has always been our approach to find an artist that we like in a
field that we feel is going to be popular for at least three years.
We'll present her with the idea of being an author, and walk her
through the process. The key is picking the best-of-the-best, and then
I don’t have to worry about anything. They are much better at what they
do than I could ever be. They know their audience so we just let them
do what they do. I have never been sorry."
VIC: In your
book, 'Glue Crafts,'
you illustrate the point that adhesives may be the fundamental
ingredients in all crafts - beautifully depicted in your crafts and
photos. Tell us about your inspiration behind this book,
and your obvious love of miniatures and whimsical
"I do love to
embellish……everything! For me, too much is simply never enough! And
with the advent of all of the different types of glues on the market
today, creating in any medium has become so much easier and the
possibilities for design are greater. I really think glue helped create
categories like 'mixed-media' and 'altered art.' Before, you had to
pretty-much sew fabric onto something. You couldn't glue tissue onto
glass, you couldn't glue 'stuff' onto fabric... the limitations were
"The inspiration for a book like this sometimes comes from creating new
designs, and sometimes from wanting to share techniques. If a designer
is working with something that she loves she naturally wants
to share her new-found tool, technique, product, or design with
everyone. What is the fun in being the only that knows what you know?!"
Perhaps no one today understands better the link between a woman's
creative space and the fruits of her process. What about you? What
is the connection between your work space and your
spaces are kind-of a funny thing. To some artists they are the dream,
the ultimate goal, the catalyst that helps them create. For other
artists the space is insignificant. It is a means to get you where you
want to go…almost like a car. It is easier if you have one and if it is
pretty as well as functional that's even better… but not always. Some
of us like old beat-up cars that we don’t have to worry about. We just
use them to allow us to go wherever we choose.
"My personal creative spaces have always been more about the decorating
than the functionality. It has to be fabulous and unique and hold all
of the memories that are important to me… but sometimes I don’t have
enough table space to work on because there is too much lovely 'stuff'
in the way.
"I am also more of a collector than a doer. I need to know how to do
everything and I buy all of the stuff just in case I ever do want to do
it... but I don’t finish very many projects. For me, learning how to do
it, having the stuff to do it, and the decorating and organizing so
that I can enjoy it all really is enough for me. I guess I never quite
enjoy my finished products as much as I do buying and arranging the
stuff to make them."
VIC: WomenCreate, your 2005
symposium, brought together some of the leading women in the creative
arts - and the Exalted Queen Mother of the Red Hat Society! How did the
eclectic energy of that first gathering move you forward toward your
larger vision for women artists?
amazing and it taught me one very important thing about creative women.
I always knew that artists often feel isolated and alone and that they
love to take classes so that they can be in a type of 'community' with
other artists and meet the 'celebrities' in their fields.
"What I didn't realize was that the more accomplished and the more
famous you are the more isolated you can be... regardless of your
creative field. And that the more varied our fields, the more
interested we are in each other and the more we can learn. My friend
Mary Jane Butters is a farm girl and an organic gardener - neither of
which I know anything about or want to know anything about - yet she
taught me more about perseverance, creativity, and passion than anyone
I have ever met.
"The students at WomenCreate
loved meeting the celebrities and sharing, but the celebrities loved
meeting and sharing even more. It is surprising, but they can
be the loneliest, the most insecure in their accomplishment, and the
ones with the most questions. I knew we needed to create a
community of creative women but I didn't realize how much we needed to
and how far reaching it would be."
Your seminal book, Where
Women Create, came out
in 2005. Three busy years later, you launched
the quarterly magazine. What were some of the catalytic events and
relationships that resulted in the magazine, Where Women
"This is one of those stories about being in the right place at the
right time... and just knowing in your heart that some things are
simply meant to be.
"A series of events, both personal and business related, happened in
2005 that completely changed and redirected my 30-year career.
By the end of 2007, I had lost my momentum and did not know
what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. A friend invited me to
come and stay with her in Laguna Beach – she said I could sit by the
beach, do girlfriend stuff, think about things, and then we could go to
CHA and look at some new options. Well, my son had just moved to Costa
Mesa so I decided to accept her offer and go see them both and
try and get some sort of focus for the future.
"A couple of days before leaving, I emailed Jenny Doh,
Editor-in-Chief of Stampington in Laguna Hills, and
asked to meet her while I was in town. I didn't know anyone at
Stampington but several of my authors were designing for them and
thought I should know them. Jenny's email back was a bit discouraging
when she reminded me that 'Stampington doesn't do books.' I
assured her I wasn't going there to pitch a book and after a few more
emails she agreed to meet.
"At Stampington, Jenny, Kellene Giloff and I went to lunch.
Clearly, I hadn't done enough homework when I asked who owned
Stampington and Kellene answered, 'I do.' Well, we talked for
several hours and Kellene asked if I had ever considered
expanding my book, Where
Create, as a magazine. When I said I had, she asked if I
would like to do it with Stampington. Long story short, we announced
our new partnership at CHA a couple of days later. And that was the
beginning of my 30-year dream that was finally going to come true."
Your personal theme, "From a woman's soul. Through a woman's eyes. By a
woman's hands," speaks to the unique perspective and power of women
artists. How does your work as a publisher, writer and artist reflect
"For me it is all about the creative hearts of women. We see things
differently, we create things differently, and we are always passionate
about everything. The best way to describe how I feel about this
question is to recommend that everyone read 'From the Kitchen Table'
in the first and the third issue of Where Women Create.
It says it all in about 2,000 words... being brief has never been one
of my strongest suits!"
For more than 30 years, you've brought women artists together in every
known medium: books, magazines, DVDs, the Internet, and in personal
dialog. What would you like to see happen next in the realm of women
artists? What is on the horizon for you personally?
"The horizon for us is to create a complete 'community' for creative
women. I want a place on-line where they can inspire, connect,
and share with each other. I want a world of creative friends that
understand each other without having to explain themselves. I want a
place where they can sell their work, do research, teach one another,
and on and on.
"I see a series of events across the country where we can all take
classes and buy each other's work and have a really good time... where,
for just a day or two, no one judges us, no one criticizes what we want
to buy, and no one critiques what we create. And then we can go back to
our worlds of being mothers, wives, employees, daughters, and more.
"I want to continue the magazine so that we have something to hold in
our hands that inspires, connects, reassures, teaches, and introduces
us to a new and creative world filled with souls just like our own.
"And maybe someday I would like a TV show where we really can 'meet'
each other. The written word and photography are my mediums of choice
but I would like to actually hear some of these artists tell their
stories and share their entire creative space overall and in
detail... which is so much harder to do on the pages of a
"I know it is ambitious but it's not impossible. There are so many of
us who are willing to work very hard to make it a reality and not just