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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane miniature business takes off with entry to prestigious show

Miniaturist Beth Pothen talks about her method for making the tiny objects while looking through a window of her dollhouse at her home in Greenacres on Mon, Nov 20, 2023.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

When Beth Pothen bakes for the holidays, she decorates with the tiniest of details, making shapes and cutouts with icing, swirls and sprinkles.

Bells, Santa hats or rounds go into the oven – but they’re nonedible treats from clay – sized for 11/2-by-1-inch cookie sheets.

The Greenacres resident crafts these replicas and other handmade miniatures she sells at shows and online.

Her customers are called miniature enthusiasts, buying Pothen’s tiny chocolate bars, wizard tools or vegetables for dollhouses or one-room themed boxes, which mimic rooms in a home, a special setting from tales like “Harry Potter” or a business.

“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s relaxing,” Pothen said. “If I make large quantities of one item, then it can be tedious. Other than that, it’s fun.

“People’s reaction is one of the best things. People say, ‘I love your stuff. You’re so talented. They’re so tiny.’ ”

Pothen, 43, began Mountain Creek Miniatures when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Montana. She first made tiny wind chimes.

Today, she runs a part-time hobby business around full-time work. With her husband, Patrick, she also juggles family time with their daughter Grace, 4, and son, Cody, 2.

The couple both work at Spokane’s U.S. Postal Service processing and distribution center. She works nights. He covers a day shift. They’ll swap cars and the kids.

Pothen gets about 4½ hours of sleep after her late shift ends and then naps with the kids. She crafts most of the minuscule merchandise on the weekends, beginning at the kids’ bedtime into the wee hours.

Her inventory ranges from spooky Halloween items to those fancy Christmas cookie trays, selling at $18 each.

“The majority of my items I sell are holiday stuff, food, some landscaping and Halloween to wizard items, because a lot of people are into ‘Harry Potter’ and they make ‘Harry Potter’ room boxes or spooky dollhouses.”

Pothen buys some wholesale miniature furniture, such as hutches, to decorate and add the accessories she crafts. “I’d say 90% of what I sell is handmade by me.”

Her miniature world started at 12, when her mom, Pat Hill, built a large dollhouse as Pothen’s Christmas gift. They lived in a Chicago suburb, so she and her mom went to vendor events to fill the dollhouse, including the promoter Tom Bishop’s Chicago International Miniatures show.

Pothen was hooked.

In May, she got her first invite to attend that same Chicago show as a vendor.

“That was kind of my dream – one day I’d be invited to the show,” she said. “You can submit your interest in being a vendor, but you have to be accepted.”

She had sent an email to Bishop, who checked items on her website, then sent an invite.

A New York Times article about the May convention mentioned Pothen and her work: “Inside the Big World of Small Objects: For over 40 years, Tom Bishop’s dollhouse miniatures show has been the gold standard for serious collectors and hobbyists alike.”

Pothen drove to Chicago, and while family stayed in Minnesota, she and her mom worked the show. It drew 250 vendors and 3,000 attendees.

A Seattle show typically has 50 to 75 vendors.

“People from all over the United States fly into the Tom Bishop show in Chicago just to go shopping,” Pothen said.

Her maternal grandmother, who she called nana, was the first in the family to build and sell miniatures.

Pothen started tinkering in college and gave miniatures to her nana to sell at shows. In 2005, Pothen found a nearby craft show organized by a Girl Scouts group and entered a booth. The miniatures sold, and her vendor days began.

She also met Patrick in 2005. The couple moved to Georgia, closer to her nana, and the two women went to vendor shows. Pothen hauled and set up both booths.

Around 2008, the couple moved to Post Falls for three years, then to Fort Collins, Colorado, until their move to Greenacres nearly 10 years ago.

Since January, Pothen has gone to five shows, when normally it’s two a year. Word spread among Chicago customers, vendors and the newspaper article. One customer asked her to replicate “Harry Potter” butterbeer.

At a small miniatures show in Minnesota, a woman who saw her work in Chicago called a friend who came to buy.

A San Jose show promoter saw her work at the Tom Bishop show and invited her to California in October. Pothen’s parents helped out so she could attend.

“It was a little more stressful, because that was my first time packing my miniatures in suitcases,” Pothen added.

“I had three suitcases full of just miniatures, and you have to stuff them with tissue paper. There was a little bit of breakage, but I was able to glue them back in place.

“Even my carry-on had miniatures.”

She’ll create new items for shows, such as miniature Wonka bars, because Pothen loves the original movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

The Wonka bar sold for about $3, she said. Most of her stock ranges from $3 to $18. A few might go as high as $65, such as a fully stocked Pirate Table.

Pothen has a different mindset inside a craft store than most customers. Some artificial floral arrangements have plastic square-shaped fillers that are tiny, she said. “They’re perfect for miniature ice cubes.”

She uses jewelry-sized clear bottles that hang on necklaces, but she removes the eye rings. She’ll fill those bottles to look like they’re holding bones or miniature candies, which are really cake sprinkles or spices.

Coffee grounds can look like dirt, and tiny decals for fingernails become decor for ceramic plates. Sesame seeds appear as pumpkin guts for miniature carved pumpkins.

Most miniatures are made with clay – she likes the Sculpey brand. For cookies, she’s perfected additional tricks.

“Nowadays, I have more molds that I bought from Etsy, or even from Amazon,” she said. “I finally found teeny-tiny little molds or miniature cutters, then I decorate them.”

She also discovered a liquid Sculpey, which she said is similar to cookie icing. “I guess people use it for jewelry stuff. You add chalk pastels, break off some chalk, and it turns into colors that you can smear onto your clay.”

Pothen calculates scale for tiny real-world replicas.

“The majority of miniatures is done by 1-inch scale, so 1 inch equals 1 foot,” she said. They can go smaller, but she sticks with that equation.

For a miniature Ouija board, she found an original and used a ruler to calculate it to a 1-inch scale.

Pothen said she’s a little concerned about the hobby’s future but is seeing younger people at shows. The Spokane Miniature Society meets monthly.

“The majority of the vendors, and normally the customers, are 60 years old and older,” she said. “It is exciting to see younger people. I do see 20-year-olds.

“I sure hope more young people get into this hobby. I think they are. In 20 years, I hope I can still be doing this.”