Welcome to Kitengela Glass.
Here, 75 artisans create lampshades, goblets, beaded curtains – even hats made from old beer cans.
“When I learn how to cut glass, I can draw; I can make a bird, an animal like a lion, a frog,” said artisan Millycent Makena. “If you learn how to cut glass, you learn a lot, so if I am told to cut an image of a fish, I can do it and go to the next level.”
Kitengela artisans use traditional glass blowing methods.
First, the glass blower gathers a blob of liquid glass from inside the oven. The glass is very hot – 1,100 degrees centigrade. He then expands the blob by blowing into it.
And shapes it into whatever he wishes.
A punty – a steel rod with a small glass blob – aids the production.
Finishing touches are added, and viola! All ready for the dining room table.
Joseph Githinji Kiboi is training to become a glass blower.
“[It is] something I have never seen before – I just used to see this on the videos, on pictures, but now I can make something of the sort, where I have to imagine,” he said. “After imagining a design, the materials are available; I produce what I have imagined. Then it is accepted by customers who come here and visit us.”
Elsewhere at Kitengela Glass, artisans create mosaics from thick glass blocks…and fashion stained-glass windows, lamps and other objects.
Nani Croze founded Kitengela Glass after coming to Kenya 30 years ago from Germany. She says the compound itself is her work of art.
“It is letting people know what they can do with an environment, how beautiful you can make it, and it does not have to be square and please, no straight lines,” she said. “I am not alone with this.”
Nothing is wasted. Artisans collect and use recycled glass, cans, scrap metal and other waste materials.
And not just to make art.
“We run our bio-gas with cow dung and a bit of water and it works,” said Croze. “I run the soldering irons with it, I cook food with just our bio-gas and it works very nicely. I have a wonderful green shamba – garden – now because of the effluents of the bio-gas afterwards. We have a windmill; I have solar [panels].”
Croze is a muralist by profession. She says everything within the compound encourages creativity.
“Everybody has to go around with a pencil and a paper pad, and if anything comes to mind, you need to write it down, or draw it, or sketch it for the ideas that are continually bombarding our brains, so we should really not forget them,” she said. “Only a very small portion of what we actually think and conceive gets to be made because there is so much out there that we do not have enough hands, heads, time.”
Kitengela Glass products are sold in different parts of East Africa, with some being shipped to Europe and North America.