Monday, 28 January 2019

NANI’S GLASS MENAGERIE


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (28 January 2019) with photo assistance from Donnae Belle
                                         Magical gate of entry into Nani's 'glass menagerie' . photo by Donnae Belle

Tennessee Williams wrote ‘The Glass Menagerie’, but I find it’s also an apt title for what I experienced on my recent travels to Kitengela Glass Workshop and Art Centre.
By now, Nani Croze’s original experiment bringing ‘jua kali’ hand-blown glass works to Kenya is renowned, both locally and globally. (She’s featured in the current issue of African Forbes’ new Women’s edition.)

She started making glass art in 1979 after having established herself as a muralist, painter and sculptor who created the ‘Mother and Child’ fountain at the front entrance of Maendeleo House.
She even climbed scaffolds at Maendeleo to create the monumental painting (which is still there) of the Kenya mama holding her fist high in salute to the freedom that Kenyans are meant to enjoy.
But it’s the sprawling Kitengela estate that’s literally littered with glass and cement sculptures that arrests the visitor’s eyes even before she enters Nani’s quirky glass menagerie.

Other visitors have called Kitengela Glass everything from a glass paradise and glass museum to a glorious get-away where you can stay in one of Nani’s glistening stained-glass huts. The huts all have a Maasai manyatta feel to them, perhaps out of respect for the region her place occupies in the heart of Maasai land.
Or perhaps it’s because the simple manyatta structure is how she began building her new home after having lived with her first family on a tea plantation in Tigoni.
Either way, architecture is another rustic feature of Nani’s creativity. 
Most of her buildings are constructed with a mix of mud, cement and glass. That includes the mini-manyatta where her layer hens stay. She used a similar design for the quarters where her workers (including their families) reside.
These are the people who assist Nani everywhere from her organic garden and animal farm to her guest (glass hut) suites, stain-glass workshops and the jua-kali construction site where you’ll find Patrick Kibe creating everything from wind-chimes and bird-feeders to butterflies and hats out of recycled glass, metals and plastics.
                        Patrick Kibe just made this wind chime with recycled glass and scrap recycled metal at Nani's

But it’s the animals that constitute Nani’s main menagerie, some alive, others glass and stone. At the entrance of Kitengela glass, you’ll find a whole ‘zoo’-full of glassy creature sculptures including a stained-glass dragon, giant gorilla, baboons, wide-winged birds and other miscellaneous beings.
A few more are up the user-friendly ramp leading to the Mechtel Gallery where artworks by Kenyan painters can be found alongside Nani’s life-size leopard and other glass wall hangings.
But it’s in Nani’s inner sanctum that one encounters the menagerie of living creatures. That’s because Nani, in a past life was one of Konrad Lorenz’s ‘goose girls’. Lorenz was the Nobel prize-winning animal behaviorist who gave Nani the opportunity to launch her animal-loving life professionally. She has mixed her art and animal-loving ever since as one will see immediately, upon arrival at Kitengela Glass.
One might bump into a meandering camel as I did several months back. Missy was so tame that she and I became fast friends. Sadly, she ate poisonous berries that nobody knew were growing along the camels’ walkway. She passed on before Christmas and it has taken Nani time to get over her demise. But she was awaiting the arrival of a new camel last weekend when I went visiting.
On your way to tea with Nani, you are also bound to encounter a horde of geese, ducks and possibly a peacock along the way.
But it’s around Nani’s glass mosaic tea table that one will seriously discover just how much this amazing artist thrives on animals.
She just got a new Rottweiler pup (since she recently lost her beloved but ancient Tolstoy). In all she has up to a dozen lovely dogs at her feet at any one time.
                                                             Let the sleeping Rotweiller Archie lie for a while

The dogs don’t have a problem with all the Guinea fowl, geese or red-backed sparrows that frequent Nani’s outdoor tearoom which is gracefully encased in tree branches and multiple bird feeders that attract an infinite variety of feathered fellows.
Sadly, two of my most favorite birds who were family members of Nani’s menagerie passed on recently. The crested crane was most endearing despite her loving to nibble on whatever cake Nani’s master chef Mary had baked that day.
But the bird that was most difficult for Nani to lose was Vulchie, the beloved Egyptian vulture she had lived with for decades. Vulchie was a wise and wonderful bird who walked around Nani’s ‘court’ as if he were the king reigning over the menagerie. He’ll be immortalized soon in a book Nani’s producing.
                                               In magical memory to the magnificent Egyptian vulture Vulchie


                                                       Current Queen of the menagerie, Madam Guinnea Fowl


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