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Pioneers of Kenyan glassblowing - open during Covid-19. Pioneers of Kenyan glassblowing - open during Covid-19.

The Kitengela Hot Glass Story

History


Anselm grew up on the houseboat Platypus in Oxford where his bedmates were Marmaduke the chicken & Boa the constrictor.

Thence to the Serengeti for a couple of years (see picture below of his first educational establishment at the Shule Ya Msingi, Seronera) where his dad, Harvey, was starting his career in elephant research at the Serengeti Research Institute.



A typical day in the Serengeti circa 1968:



Always keep your zebra handy.


Then to Kenya and a decade in a converted double-decker bus in the tea fields of Limuru north of Nairobi, surrounded by more animals - pictured below are wolfhound Salia and labrador Cheeseburger.



In 1979 the family moved to the Kitengela (Athi/Kapiti) plains on the edge of the Nairobi National Park. 'Bird', Anselms' eponymous crested crane, moved with the family to the plains.  


Anselm's mother, Nani, was working with stained glass & encouraged Anselm to find out about molten glass. He went to Holland after his education to understand glass making with Willem & Bernard Heesen in the early 90's.

Anselm & Willem in Leerdam


During this apprenticeship he fell in love with the frustrating, challenging & deeply satisfying process of glass blowing, and, all fired up, came back to Kenya to set up the craft, and East Africa's first glassblowing company - Kitengela Hot Glass.

Anselm, Mikko, Herman & Skippy the gnu



On the heels of this magical fusion of luck & revolutionary thinking from master teachers, he met Mikko Merikallio (Finnish glassblower, furnace builder & inventor) who was very good with the relevant appropriate technology needed. So a space was cleared & building started.

The original workshop in 1990 - now a gallery



Without mains electricity they needed to be self powered. With a unique steam-injected system using recycled engine oil, Anselm heated the furnaces to melt the glass.

Herman, Meja & Ngoyo



Anselm learned on the job, blowing objects and casting slabs that were turned into panels and furniture. His sister Katrineka began making glass beads.  

Having finished the front part of the studio pictured above, he went on to create the iconic glass star studded dome based on the constellations of the day.

To do this, he needed bricks.

Anselm based the design on an old English glass beehive like the Red House Cone (c. 1800) below, selling goblets to buy the bricks to build the dome. 


Pre todays type of internet access meant that there was little research material to pin down the design, so it ended up looking, fortuitously, like an old 16th century furnace:

 

It took about four years, but by the time it was finished, one studio had evolved into a number of them - glass blowing, lighting, metal, dalle de verre, beads and funky fencing.

The local masons who’d been building needed jobs when the studio was done, so they were engaged as the first apprentices. That’s how Kitengela Hot Glass got started - everybody dived in and learned together.


Distinctive in spirit and design, Kitengela Hot Glass is located on the edge of Kenyan wilderness, 50 minutes (traffic permitting - map here) from Nairobi city centre. People come from all over the world to visit, drawn by the magical and antique art of glassblowing.

Travel down onto the plains across rutted roads through scrubland & a ravine and you will be transported into another space and time. 

Step into the workshops to discover art and watch the magic of glassblowing as it happens. Sip cappuccino at a funky, chunky mosaic table in the outdoor café. Surround yourself in a secret garden of sculpture and furniture and living designs that enchant and inspire.

 Because Kitengela Hot Glass is not just a place or a product, it’s an experience.