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Breathing Life Into Glass

The glassblowers of Kitengela Hot Glass have developed their own style, turning this classic artform into a Kenyan sensation
Above: A glowing orb becomes a piece of art

I'm the type of traveller who likes to make a list. It was my first time in Nairobi and, naturally, I had a million and one things that I wanted to see and do — and not enough time. On that list was a visit to Kitengela Hot Glass, East Africa’s first glassblowing company. Glassblowing was something I associated with Venice so I was very intrigued to see it done African-style and there was an added bonus — they were making some of our glasses for the new lodge, Angama Amboseli.  

We hit the road with our colleague, Daniel, at the wheel and headed out from the bustling streets of Nairobi. The drive to Kitengela felt longer than it was because the workshop is quite literally off the beaten track. After about an hour, we found ourselves in what felt like the middle of nowhere; luckily, a passerby was able to point us in the right direction. We were told to follow the signs for ‘Anselm’ (named after the founder Anselm Croze), but all we needed to do was follow the weird and wonderful structures peeking over the trees — giant statues decorated with colourful fragments of glass.

An enchanted forest of glass
Light fixtures appear like jellyfish from below

As you walk through the entrance there are pieces of glass in every direction, from the tiles laid in the floor to shimmering objects in the trees, as well as the tables and chairs standing in the courtyard. It made me feel like I’d stepped into the imaginary world I had created in my mind as a child, for the fairies I believed to be real. There were little glass ornaments in the garden beds popping out amongst the flowers and the windows were all kaleidoscopes of colour as the sun hit the mosaic — suddenly normal glass windows seemed very boring and dull.

Thomas is a true storyteller, spinning more magic into Kitengela

We were greeted by General Manager, Thomas Kapere, whose enthusiasm and charm had a distinct 'Willy Wonka' effect on us. We were first taken to see where everything started — which was the biggest pile of broken glass I had ever seen in my life. Kitengela collects scrap glass, mainly windows and bottles, from industrial suppliers and some hotels and restaurants (Angama included).

Taking inspiration from the natural world
Of course, everything is available for purchase
Keeping it modern, they even make glass speakers

Melting over 500kg of glass per day, you can just imagine just how big this pile of glass was. With the right eye, and of course skill, these broken pieces have the potential to be transformed into anything your heart desires. From small glass beads to giant statues, drinking glasses to speakers — yes, you read that correctly.

Wet newspaper is the initial moulding instrument
Then the glassblower's breath helps shape the object

While we tried desperately to make sense of everything that we saw, Thomas explained Kitengela's history. Anselm Croze founded Kitengela Hot Glass after he came back from a glassblowing apprenticeship in Holland. At the time, there were no glassblowers in Kenya so Anselm shared his knowledge and skill with the masons that were working in the area who showed interest in learning from him. They quickly grew from six to 14 blowers, all with the same love and passion for this art.

Stepping into the workshop is a shock to the senses — you feel the immense heat, smell the oil burning in the furnaces while the sounds of the tools clang and your eyes are treated to glowing orbs of glass hanging off of thin metal poles. We were treated to a show as the blowers showed us the making of one of our drinking glasses for Angama Amboseli; including the black stripes around it.

The thought that comes to mind when you watch the smouldering, bright-orange balls of glass become an item before your very eyes, is that each one of these blowers is literally breathing these items to life.

Notes from the Editor:

We are looking forward to opening Angama Amboseli's doors in November with Kitengela glassware taking centre stage (or table). Thank you to Thomas for the magical tour and to the rest of the Kitengela team for making our beautiful glasses and some of these lovely photographs.

Filed under: Safari Style

Tagged with:

Kenyan Design , Nairobi , Proudly Kenyan

About: Alita Wilkens

A member of the marketing team, Alita has a love of storytelling and seeing things through from ideation to completion. She is an avid traveller but will always choose a safari holiday above all else. And though she doesn't drink coffee, she'll never say no to a cup of tea and a good story.

Browse all articles by Alita Wilkens Meet the angama team

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