A playdate with Miss Ella & Miss Kina (Part Two)

Karina Harrison is a Polish-born dollmaker based in the UK. We’ve recently had a chat with the artist about her paper-mache and textiles creations, exhibited at the shop from the 27th February to the 26th March.

Chiara: Let’s start with your doll exhibition currently on at the shop: what are the ideas and inspirations behind it? Does Pollock’s itself come into it at all?

Miss Kina: My background is in early years’ education. I worked with young children for many years, and it was very enjoyable to observe them and to be invited into their magical worlds. I love how a stick can be a magic wand one minute and then an aeroplane the next, a blanket can be a magical cape or a monster. And I adore seeing children dressed up as various characters or animals. Children are an ongoing fascination for me and inspiration for my dolls. You can see my dolls dressed as animals, having a collection of sticks or their cuddly companion that must be taken on each adventure.

Miss Kina Dolls at 2024 Image by Miss Kina

Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop caught my attention many years ago, as I used to bring my boys to The Transport Museum, and we’d pay a visit to look at the treasures in the shop after. Since I started making dolls, it was my dream to exhibit them in this fantastical space. And Louise was so accommodating, it is truly a dream coming true for me. Also, when I mention to various people about the exhibition, they keep saying that they remember going to the shop when they were little. That’s just so lovely that the shop has kept going strong for so long.
Chiara: I asked the same question to Miss Ella in Part 1. who you are exhibiting your dolls alongside. So Karina, How did you two bring your visions together in this “shared space”? How has it been to collaborate as artists and doll-makers?
Miss Kina: I was already following Miss Ella on Instagram before I knew we’d exhibit together. Her gorgeous cat illustrations and faerie-like dolls caught my eye.

Miss Kina & Miss Ella at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, February 2024

When we knew we’d exhibit together, it felt natural. I imagine my little people are the ones who love walks in the woods, looking for fox or badger’s footprints, always coming back with good selection of sticks and other treasures. Hence I created two dolls that resonate with Ella’s theme. Diley wears a mushroom dress, and her favourite toy is a little toadstool girl. Lolek is a fine collector of all things. That character is based on one in a book I read to my boys when they were little. It’s by Ashild Kanstad Johnsen: Stumpy Opens a Museum. It is a loose translation as there’s no English version of the book. It’s about an anthropomorphic tree-stump called Stumpy, who lives at the edge of the woods and collects things that he comes across on his daily walks. He brings them home and puts them into categories. Then he decides to open a museum to share his collection with the rest of the woodland dwellers. It’s such a sweet story. I hope it will get translated into English. That story in my opinion resonates with Ella and my dolls. I hope you like my version of Stumpy- Lolek.

Diley by Miss Kina, 2024

Lolek & Kitty Whiskers Miss Kina 2024

Chiara: What or who has influenced your creativity and practice? And what about your own family – has there been a family member passing on a certain skill or artistic interest to you, perhaps?
Miss Kina: I spent many summers in my grandparents’ village, Opoczno. They were skilled craftsmen. My grandad was a welder and I watched him for hours designing people’s front gates and then making them. My granny was a resourceful homemaker with many skills that I absorbed naturally. We would go to the meadows to collect herbs to sell, or into the woods for bilberries to use in buns, or move sheep from one field to another. I love cooking and try to forage as much as I can. It comes from my childhood. I remember my grandma was always knitting all sorts of things for her grandchildren and I was captivated by the magic of it. She was the one who taught me to knit, and my first piece of knitting was a square in brown wool. She also sewed and embroidered. I seemed to just absorb it all as a child. I remember spending time with my cousins making toys out of rags and wool scraps. It was such a fun time and I guess that’s what shows in my work. I also vividly remember art and craft classes in my primary school, where we were taught many skills. I quite enjoyed decorative crocheting and embroidery and making a carousel for little dolls.
Chiara: Did you have a favourite game or pastime as a kid and teenager?
I am an only child, so I remember dressing up a lot using my mum or my grandma’s clothes and pretending to be various characters I made up. I always dreamed of having long hair, so to compensate for that, I (in character) wore skirts on my head! I laugh now when I think about it. I was lucky my cousins were my age and we had so much fun playing make-believe. And I loved drawing. Sadly, no evidence of that survives but I remember I was fond of princesses.

Doll by Miss Kina, 2024

I also spent a lot of time playing various games with my peers. We loved jump rope and tried to fit as many kids jumping together as possible. I loved playing elastics too. I was never as good as two of my friends who could jump really high, but it was fun! Another game I remember was when we would divide into two groups. One would hide, leaving clues and the other group would have to find them. Something like a treasure hunt. I always arrange an Easter-egg treasure hunt for my boys to find hidden chocolate eggs with clues now!
Chiara: I’m very interested in the combinations of media your dolls are characterised by. How did this come about? I particularly love their paper mache faces, which remind me a lot of puppetry and folk art. I wonder if these traditions might have influenced you at all.
Miss Kina: When I was a child living in communist Poland, there were not many toys available so many of us would have to go make our own out of things available around the house. Fom very young age I mainly played with dolls. I’d make them out of wool, or cut them out of paper and decorate them, as I got older I’d make clothes for my Barbie. So I imagine making dolls is a continuity of that early passion.
Using papier-mache is just another idea of using things I have around the house. Fear not, I don’t go and rip up any old book that falls into my hands! I like using pages from a book as a final layer for my dolls, as I like to think that each of us carries many stories, thoughts or just favourite words or saying, and in the case of my dolls, it so happens that they wear their thoughts. I like using second hand materials I find in charity shops or online or gifted by friends. These always come with untold stories in the form or wear and tear, little holes or stains. It’s the same with the buttons and wool I use. I love finding little random objects and incorporate them in my dolls.
As a child I also loved visiting CEPELIA shops which were folk and art cooperatives producing wonderful handmade products, whether they were sofa throws or bags and toys.
Chiara: Have you always been interested in doll-making or did you come to it from alternative routes?
Miss Kina: I always enjoyed playing with dolls, dressing, and making clothes for them and maybe giving them a cheeky haircut! So, I think my fascination with dolls throughout my childhood has progressed into making my own, which brings me so much satisfaction as they are admired not only by me, but also by my wonderful followers on social media. I also love and collect dolls by contemporary artists. And I still like going to toyshops just to look at dolls available, even the mass produced ones!

Bettie by Miss Kina, 2024

Chiara: Again, this one was to both of you – Did you guys get a chance to try something new with your art while working on this exhibition? Are there some new creative territories you’d like to explore in 2024?
Miss Kina: It was fun process creating dolls for this exhibition. I wanted to design a collection that celebrates childhood. I always think that muddy shoes and stained clothes are sure signs of having made lasting memories for children! I want people look at my dolls and revisit their own childhood and the fun they had.
I am fascinated by ball-joined dolls at the moment and it is something that I would like to have a go at in the future. And I would also like to find more time to explore watercolours, and use them to create my dolls on paper. and I’m drawn to sculpture, especially using porcelain. There are so many things I want to have a go. You will definitely see new things coming!?

Dolls by Miss Kina, 2024

Miss Ella & Miss Kina – a joint exhibition will be on show at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop from 27th February – 26th March 2024

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Interview and Exhibition photographs by Chiara Scoglio