My mind whirred with anticipation as I crossed the high Indiana-Jones style bridge, decorated with glass beads that connected one side of the gorge to the other. I followed the mosaic path uphill, and after a few steps emerged through the brush into bright color. Taking in my first glimpse of the Kitengela Glass studios, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was still in Africa or if I had just slipped down the rabbit hole into another world.
Glass and color everywhere. Bright baubles in the trees, rows of blue and green goblets lining the store shelves, fiery orange liquid glass being blown into shapes near the big black ovens, kaleidoscope stained glass windows, bowls of glass beads and rings, abstract sculptures accented with sparkling fragments, halved wine bottles serving as planters, and delicate mobiles clinking in the breeze.
Nani Croze is a burst of color herself. She greets us in a bright apron, green shoes, red nail polish, and numerous beaded pieces of jewelry. Kitengela Glass is the creation of Croze and her family. Croze, originally from Germany, came to East Africa with her husband in the 60’s to study animals. They made the move permanent with their family in the 70’s.
It is obvious that her love for art, flora and fauna runs deep. In the same breath that she uses to explain Kitengela, Croze rattles off all the creatures that live in and around the studios too. Upon exploring the grounds, it does seem a bit like a glass-themed zoo. Dogs weave through her legs, fish swim lazily around the indoor pond, and horses meander around the low walls.
Kitengela collects and recycles glass from all over Kenya, and sells the repurposed creations directly from their studios, and from retail shops in East Africa. They have made commissioned work for patrons all over the world. Kitengela is a family and community affair. Nani does windows, murals, mosaics, sculptures, and artwork, while her son Anselm makes dish and drinkware and her daughter Katrineka creates glass beads. The also employ more than 30 locals at their studios and retail stores.
WHAT DOES KITENGELA SPECIALIZE IN?
We specialize in well, definitely animals, mainly glass and recycling, training people… we to a lot of windows on my side, my son (Anselm) does the kitchenware, and I do a lot of church windows, banks, and I’m trying to make glass for Africa, that’s what I’m trying to really do!
WHAT DOES MAKING GLASS FOR AFRICA MEAN TO YOU?
It means that there are a lot of bottles and rubbish glass in Africa and it should be used and turned into flat glass, thick glass, mosaic, and it should be used in nice ways rather than throwing it out.
Why not? I’m actually a muralist, I used to paint walls, there are some still around in town. But, because glass needs to be used, there is too much of it around.
WHAT DOES ART MEAN TO YOU?
Don’t ask me that! I come from an art family, my grandmother was the first muralist I knew, art is my middle name, I can’t tell you what it means.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO YOU?
My animals, definitely. The planet, and just keeping people in-line, there’s too many people and not enough animals actually. But the few people that I have with me I try to look after, and that’s hard enough.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO IS NEW TO AFRICA?
I think more youngsters should come to Africa to see what it’s all about in reality. Come to Africa and see what’s going on.
DO YOU HAVE A HOPE OR A WISH FOR AFRICA OR KENYA?
Let’s keep our trees going. Plant more. Rain, water, leaves, trees… water.
Find out more about Kitengela Glass and Nani Croze at www.kitengela-glass.com
About guest blogger and photographer Bess Brownlee:
Bess Brownlee is a visual storyteller currently based in Nairobi, Kenya working with Africa Inland Mission’s On Field Media team. She is a Montana-native, and lover of adventure, light, cooking, forest walks, travel, campfires and iced coffee. Bess is living her dream of telling stories through photographs and learning more about this big world.
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