Monday, May 3, 2010

Glass Manufacturing at Kitengela: Featuring Anselm Croze

Boaz & Ostrich in Background

AAEA Kenya Director Boaz Adhengo, right, took an academic expedition to Kitengela, together with our graphic designer (at Project Nabuur) and a volunteer apprentice.

Anselm Croze, left, took over the business that was started by his mother. He collects all sorts of glasses and recycles them into wonderful products. He does this at Kitengela, where the family home is situated. Thus, in this huge track of land, he houses all their staff, has a small conservatoir for wild animals (ostrich, turtles, wathogs, monkeys, camels) and is a full fledged tour attraction facility. Croze is a graduate of Business Administration, but glass creativity is a passion that he has developed into a profession.

Anselm Croze was born in Cumbria in northern England. He came to Kenya with his father, Harvey Croze, an environmental zoologist who worked in the Serengeti. Anselm remembers home-schooling in a tent in Tanzania; later, he was the one little mzungu kid amongst many black urchins in a small, one-room rural school, running around, getting into dirt and trouble. Later still, he drove a taxi around Ann Arbor, Michigan, because he had run out of money to pay his university fees in the U.S.A. He understands hardship quite well, and he understands the value of practical methods of showing solidarity.

Anselm Croze presides over the hot glass division of Kitengela Glassworks. At Kitengela, Anselm combines his passion for the environment with his passion for glass art; he places his art in his environment with the same creative joy with which he weaves the environment into his art. Many Kenyan homes have some of Kitengela’s luminous hand-crafted glasses, vases, platters, and bowls in shades ranging from deepest blue and emerald green to delicate pastels the colour of illuminated water from the sea. All are created from 100% recycled, reclaimed, and salvaged materials. A lucky few are able to make the trek out to the busy hive of activity that is the source of the art.

Anselm is planning no less than a revolution: an African hot-glass movement in which handcrafted glass from every region across the continent, complete with regional specializations and signature colours, will present itself to the world as another indicator of Africa’s global-level creativity, another way in which African cultural production continues to innovate, re-imagining and renewing itself.

The way to the workshop is over rutted roads with more craters than the moon and through wafting billows of dust. That certain features of the landscape are not geological formations takes a while to notice. The visitor’s eye wanders over the seductively wide horizons of the Kitengela plains and then zooms back to a strange mound in the middle of the openness.

His sometimes disturbing artwork is out in the open, harmonizing surprisingly with the grass and rocky outgrowths and trees. His is not the only artwork on display, because he believes in artistic collaboration and engages in many joint projects with other artists. But his is certainly the animating spirit behind the exuberance and the rigour of the art.

At Kitengela, Glassworks, groups of men in protective overalls with old socks on their hands toil and sweat surrounded by roaring furnaces and bubbling glass. The men wield curious long-handled metal pipes with dexterity and controlled haste. These they sometimes plunge, twisting, into the hearts of the fires roaring around them before sitting to twirl and pad the glass into shape ,or dunking them in the buckets of cold water next to their workstations. The workshop sounds like a living thing, with water hissing, fires crackling, and the footsteps of the glassworkers syncopating as they wield their long pipes, tipped with glowing bulbs of molten glass, like fiery dreams waiting to be imagined into life. Work proceeds like a strange and dangerous ballet: The fires are very hot, the space is not very big, and the glass must be shaped before it cools—which happens very quickly with recycled glass. The men move with an eerie awareness of each other—their metal rods swinging through the dark interior like fireflies bobbing in the evening light.

Kitengela Glassworks supports the Bosco Boys Home (where Anselm recruits many of his glassmaking trainees), as well as the local high school, with material and financial support. More importantly, Anselm Croze is intent on passing on his skills and his love of glass and making beauty to as many Kenyans as possible; given the abundant evidence in his Kitengela Hot Glass retail outlets, this is a skill that is economically beneficial as well as soul satisfying.

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