Not that easy to stumble upon, but worth the search, sitting near the train tracks that have been under construction for years in the Hongdae area is Pole Pole. Most people head the opposite direction, usually walking toward Hapjeong or Sangsu when visiting Hongdae, but this area has some cute cafes and restaurants that have stayed the course even though the construction seems like there is no end in sight. This cafe and gallery has been open for three years and is run by two reporters turned doll enthusiasts and not only can one enjoy and purchase dolls here from around the world, but visitors can also paint their own Matryoshka, or Russian nesting dolls with the help of Jino Kim, 김진경. Jino welcomes guests into the small gallery and patiently teaches those interested how to paint and inspires those without any clue how to begin.
The dolls that line the shelves on the walls have been procured from around the world and there’s a story behind each one, which Jino is happy to share. Guests can sit and talk over coffee or tea with the owners while enjoying the numerous stories or choose to paint their very own dolls to take home. The different tales behind the dolls and their histories and unique styles could give hours of conversation. There are dolls from South America, Africa and Europe. There are old dolls and new dolls. It’s a quaint gallery, but there is a lot inside.
Some visitors are fast and sit for just a couple hours first stenciling the wooden dolls and then painting them while others come for a couple hours for a few days in a row carefully designing the dolls, Jino explained. She first provides books and pictures and examples of Matryoshka dolls in the gallery for inspiration and then hands over pencils and white washed dolls ready to be drawn on. After the penciled outlines are complete, acrylic paints in numerous colors are provided to enjoy at one’s whim. Two paint brushes of different sizes are supplied and then the fun begins. First the lighter colors should be painted and then the darker and then finally the outlines, she explained. The good thing about acrylic paint is that it dries quickly and when guests are finished a final coat of lacquer is painted on to make the dolls shine.
Jino is never far away and for most of our visit sat nearby ready to help when needed, but mostly provided interesting conversation while she herself painted her own dolls. We laughed, we cried… or I should say, I may have gasped in horror when one of my little dolls fell into some paint but overall we enjoyed an afternoon of fun that took me and my friend back to our days in school as students in art classes. The dolls were a fantastic success and for anyone that is looking for an afternoon of enjoyment in the Hongdae area, this is the place. Jino also has classes for children for those families looking for something to do. The owners ask that visitors make a reservation at least one day in advance which is possible through their Facebook page or by phone. So what are you waiting for? Grab a friend or a group of friends and even if your painting skills are not up to par, I mean look… I painted owls, you can do it!
Address: 마포구 동교동 177-12 1층 폴레폴레, 121-818
Directions: Hongik University Station exit 6 walk straight and turn left at the first alley and it’s on the left
Days: Everyday, except for Mondays.
Hours: Jino recommends visitors come in between 1-5 if you wish to paint. They stay open until 8PM but as the project can take quite a few hours, ours took four, you should head there early to have plenty of time.
Reservations at least a day in advance are required.
To make a reservation:
Message their Facebook Page
Cost: W20,000 which includes the dolls, paints and drinks while you paint
Groups: The gallery is small and if groups would like to partake in this activity a maximum of 12 people is possible.