Exclusive: Nani Croze Speaks On Her Art, Dogs And The Making Of Nani’s Kitengela Glass Art

The road to Nani’s Kitengela Glass Art in Rongai is bumpy and rough, but one that leads to a beautiful destination. When we arrived, we did not know what to expect, other than see pieces of glass arranged in certain formats to form interesting pieces of art; at least that’s what we thought.

But, interesting is not the right word to describe Nani’s place. The place is solemn, tranquil, cool and artistic. It felt like we were walking through a piece of Heaven. It is in this oasis in the middle of the vast and dry Rongai plains that Nani Croze and her late husband settled over 30 years ago.

We were met with a warm welcome at the entrance, and guided through a pathway decorated with beautiful pieces of coloured glass. At the end of the path was Nani, the founder of the place, seated under a tree sipping on a drink in a coloured glass, and surrounded by several dogs who were quick to welcome us with barks and tail wags. There were also monkeys and ducks in the compound. It was a warm welcome, I must say.

Nani’s story is one for the books. She came to Kenya as an elephant researcher in the 1980s, with the sole intention to feed her curiosity for elephants then return home to Germany. However, as fate would have it, she ended up falling in love with the Maasai people and the land here in Kenya, and never left. Over thirty years later, she is now an accomplished environmentalist and founder of the Kitengela Glass Research and Training Trust, a harbour of glass art made of stained glass windows and recycled glass objects.

WoK sat down with Nani to learn more about her life, her decision to settle in Kenya, her Glass Art Trust and her massive love for animals. Read on to find out more.

Nani, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do

I am a Kenyan citizen, although it took me about seven years to get citizenship. I came here about thirty years ago when the Maasai people had started letting go of their land, so I bought a few acres. Apart from that I feel Kenyan and I totally love this place.

What do you love most about being Kenyan?

Being here is the best part. I have people around who love me and that I love that take care of me. I just love it.

How were you able to turn this place into such a beautiful space?

When I came here, the place was dry and dusty, just like it is outside this property, as this is somewhat a semi-arid area. But my late husband and I decided to plant trees, one by one, and over time those trees grew, and we planted some more, and that is how we achieved the kind of airy and cool aesthetic we have now. We also love animals, so we brought in our dogs, ducks, cows and monkeys just naturally visited the place.

You have decided to share this space with the public. Tell us about that.

Yes, I have. We decided to put up cottages and our popular pool house is a prime attraction. We also have the suspended bridge on the other side of the property. Everything is available on our website.

How did you come up with the glass business?

When I came back from Serengeti where I was studying elephants, we passed by Kenya on our way to Europe and our car broke down. That was when I decided not to go bac home anymore and just settle here.

At the time, Missionaries in the area needed stained glass for their Church windows. I saw an opportunity there and went to England to learn more about glass making from other experienced artists. When I came back, a friend of mine suggested that we use recycled glass to make the Church glass windows. That is when we made our first furnace and the journey began.

What kind of products do you make out of glass?

We make anything that can be blown into glass; drinking glasses, cups, vases, beads, earrings, wall art, windows, etc. We can also make custom-made statues or products for clients when they request it.

Is this business sustainable?

At the moment it is really difficult to be sustainable, considering the high rise in the price of gas, which we use in the glassmaking process. I also have about 45 employees who need salaries. There is just so much going on, so it is not sustainable at the moment.

Something I am doing to pass on my skill is open a crafts school to make glass and grow their artistic side. Giving them advice on alternative sources of income is also a good place to start.

How important is it for you to pass your skills to the young generation?

I have many kids in the community who call me ‘shosho’. The school I started around he is based on anthroposophy, where we wait for children to grow and mold them according to their interests and talents. I am glad that the government is also trying to adopt the same.

In your 75 years of life, what advice would you give the younger generation?

One, take care of the environment, take care of animals and practice family planning. I am very passionate about the environment.

What keeps you going Nani?

My dogs! (laughs). We are also part of the Nairobi National Park, so waking up to this beautiful space everyday keeps me going.