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Kitengela: Glass Paradise

By Leigh Adams

The hyrax, a tree dwelling ungulate (hoofed mammal), closest living relative to an elephant!

“We've been away and something is tearing up the roofs again; probably bush babies (lemurs), certainly hyraxes and baboons and probably leopards as well!” Nani Croze was inviting me to Kenya in East Africa, a lifelong dream of mine was about to be fulfilled.  I'd heard that Laurel True had just been there and I emailed Laurel for advice.  “You should go, yes, go.”  

I knew where I would be going, a friend who had recently visited Kitengela had advised me to get in touch with Nani and I had thoroughly reviewed the website http://www.kitengela-glass.com.  But there is NO WAY POSSIBLE that I could ever have conceived the journey I was about to take….and  now, I'd like to take you with me!

Thirty years ago on the Maasai Mara in Kenya, Nani Croze, looking for a way to support her three children, started Kitengela Glass.  Struggling to make a living as a skilled muralist, Nani's friends suggested she work in stained glass.  (There is a preponderance of churches in Kenya, a built-in market.)  Nani, the multi-talented designer, found that there was no glass available; indeed, it had to be imported from Europe or the US. Nani, with characteristic determination, decided to make her own glass!  

Using recycled motor oil for fuel, Kitengela (named for the plains) uses bottles of all kinds, window glass, even broken household glass items and turns the shards into exquisitely colored glass for blowing, sheet glass to use in stained glass and dalles to use in dalle de verre work.  

In addition, they have a bead shop with a kiln that allows three ladies to work at once, lamp working extraordinary beads out of very ordinary recycled glass.  The whole creation is one marvel after another.  

Refresh the sequence in your mind because we're going to take it one or two steps further. Waste glass (bottles, broken windows, etc) is gathered and sorted.

It is melted and used for hot glass, blowing glass. The surplus from the blowing is made into sheet glass or cast into “dalles” (blocks of glass).  Now imagine the stained glass windows being made from Kitengela's own glass, spiced up with a few imported colors that are especially challenging to create.

The stained glass creations at Kitengela are diverse, unique and completely marvelous and you can see them all over Kenya.

Next, realize that there will be scraps left over from the stained glass as Kitengela's artists fill commissions daily. Let go of all your reservations and dream that magical mosaic artists have covered every imaginable (and many unimaginable) surfaces of divinely sculpted benches, monolithic gateways, bottle walled buildings, outhouses, animal enclosures, enchanted cottages, archways and meandering pathways with kaleidoscopic images of color and light.

It is impossible for me to convey the extent of the mosaics at Kitengela! The photos will help, but trust that you need to see it! And I doubt, even with the photos, that the scope and vision of Nani Croze will be conveyed.

Kitengela also has its own metal shop with very skilled and inventive work taking place there. From the Kenya Cowboy to more traditional African figures, wrought table frames, twisted and hammered benches and utterly whimsical figures, the work is positively inspired!  It is a continual and delightful surprise to turn a heavily overgrown corner and find a brilliantly sculpted bench or figure.  

Dalle de Verre is another specialty of Kitengela Glass. Large pieces with architectural integrity, able to serve as walls, windows, counters, table tops, room dividers and countless other magnificently designed, jewel-toned objects fill every possible void in the compound, contributing to the Garden of the Divinely Absurd sense of the place. Unfamiliar with dalle de verre? These photos should help.

Try a cross between Harry Potter, JRR Tolkien and the Magical Mystery Tour and see if you can imagine dragons, baboons, vultures and mischievous monkeys all described with colorful fragments of stained glass, mirror, broken dishes, tiles, bottles, blown glass and finely worked metal.  Oh, and swimming pools, walls, saunas, floors, roofs and ceilings!  Kitengela is a veritable glass artist's paradise.  I spent two weeks there and never passed a day without discovering something new and worthy of writing about, something amazing and calling to me to investigate further.

Leigh and baby donkey

Most days were filled with the wonderment of constantly unfolding discoveries, up to and including the last day when I was led to an open field containing a variety of pieces, mostly large sculptural walls (in a field inhabited by excessively friendly and very long legged camels!)  “Here's where we do ceremonies and special occasions,” Edith Nyambura told me.  

Edith has worked at Kitengela for 12 years and is a very accomplished glass artist and mosaicist. While Edith posed with the Muslim inspired piece, I elbowed the smaller camel that was determined to insert herself into the photograph. The next photo was the Judaic piece an d t wo camels bullying this writer/photographer but I managed to shoot (the camera!) over the neck of the smaller camel. By the time I got to the Christian piece, three enormous camels blocked the view fairly successfully (and there is no photo)!  The point of this vignette is that there is mosaic, beautiful mosaic, everywhere you look at Kitengela, but there are completely unexpected adventures too!

Vultchi

Animals are a theme throughout the oasis of Kitengela's garden environment.  Vultchi, an Egyptian vulture, is 28 years old and a household pet with more intelligence than one usually gives a bird credit for!

Vultchi is surrounded by 3 Rottweilers, 1 Lab/Ridgeback/Blue Heeler mix, and 7 small dogs (Daschunds and Jack Russell's and Coco who fancies herself “not a dog”).  Many of the animals are immortalized in mosaic or glass, metal or paintings and sculptural pieces throughout the grounds.

Toss in a couple of African Grey Parrots (who mimic everyone), a lone monkey (recently reported to have found a mate), countless bush babies (lemurs) seeking handouts and my favorite aerial terrorists, the hyraxes (ungulates that inhabit trees and hurl themselves at tin roofs while looking like a cross between a large guinea pig and a Chihuahua with small ears and a Disney character) and you have set the scene for the animal tour.

Mind that you have passed zebra and Maasai cattle on your way to Kitengela and if you are lucky, you may have seen giraffes and baboons.  

Kitengela is adjacent to Nairobi National Park so the wildlife is abundant. How wild the life is depends on the participants!  The camels really are quite docile albeit large and pushy.  The ostriches are not intentionally rude, they're merely dim witted.  The pigs, horses, mules, donkeys, cows, chickens, geese, rabbits, ducks and turkeys are just part of the tapestry of nature that delights ones senses at every turn at Kitengela.  

And the cottages?! Have I mentioned the private cottages available as bed and breakfast habitats for humans? Each one is an individual creation of clever design, containing unique artwork and blissful living space replete with net covered beds, sanitary facilities, creative design and cozy comforts.

The food served for meals is fresh and appetizing, delicious and healthful, served in the main house or out in the patio when appropriate.  Even if glass were not a passion for you, a person would be delighted to stay in this unique and other worldly place

At Kitengela, you can share in the adventure of blowing glass, buying one-of-a-kind pieces of glass, commissioning glasswork, taking classes, buying unique beads and/or jewelry.

 

You can watch as highly skilled women recycle found glass into delightful and wondrous beads, carefully crafted and artfully annealed, ready to make into gorgeous, gem like creations for YOU!  You can feed the ostriches (if you wish), pet the camels and swim in the dragon's den pool.

You can hike the suspension bridge and sway above the river canyon below………yes, there is a crocodile but there are plenty of old cow carcasses for him to munch on and it is nowhere near by!  (And maybe it's just a story to ensure that travelers have something to talk about when they get home!)  You can have the most memorable trip of your life…at Kitengela Glass!  And ask about classes….talk to your accountant.  Your trip may be tax deductible if your income is glass related….and wouldn't that be nice?!


If, like Nani Croze,
Laurel True and I,
you would like to donate
your services at a local
school, something might
be arranged.  

And certainly, you will
enjoy this trip as you
have enjoyed few others
in your life... Go For It!!!


Nani Croze and kids  
Visit the Kitengela Glass Web site: http://www.kitengela-glass.com

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