Shelli Quinn is a local artist who creates stuffed “bears and other cheerful things” for her local company Potbelly. She has been bringing her highly collectible creatures to life since 2004, and just recently decided to go full time with her business. She shares a studio in Chico with her husband, local marriage and family therapist Tim Quinn, and mostly sells her creations online to a clientele that stretches across the world. Visit her site at www.potbellybears.com to see a photo gallery and for info on how to purchase bears.
What inspired you to start making bears?
While I was home with [my sons], being a creative person, I thought, “They’re little boys, and dolls aren’t really the thing for them, so maybe I’ll make a teddy bear.” It was just a whim. So I bought a pattern and I made it. And it was, without question, the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It was awful. I’m a Type A kind of person, so I wasn’t satisfied. I didn’t really want to make another teddy bear, but I couldn’t sit still with the one I had produced. So I went online, and I found this world that I didn’t know existed of collectible, one-of-a-kind, artist-made, mohair teddy bears.
When did you decide to sell them?
By the time I got to a bear I was satisfied with, I thought it was kind of fun. And now that I knew about this industry out there, [I thought] maybe I [could] make some money doing this because I’m home with my kids. So I contacted an online seller and asked if they would sell my work. The first ones I ever sold sold for $200 a piece—two of them. And it went on from there. I started selling on eBay. I let the market determine my prices, and they went up and up and up.
What are the “other cheerful things” you make?
What I currently make in addition to bears are little pincushions. They have little animals on top, usually a rabbit or a mouse, and I’ve just done a few of them. They’re kind of a side thing; I don’t get quite the same price point for them. But they’re easier and quicker to make. They’re fun. It’s a nice diversion, keeps the creative chops honed. If I want to make something like a skunk or a rabbit, or if I’m inspired, then I can do that.
Any new challenges?
The new frontier for me is: If I offer bears more frequently, can I maintain the collecting audience and the price points I’ve been getting? I have literally spent 10 years selling everything I make within a day of posting it. I just don’t have anything that hasn’t sold, and I’m so grateful and so lucky. I have loyal collectors who love my work and who, when I send out an email, snap it up.