Endangered Stained Glass Window, the Largest in East Africa

Nani’s endangered stained glass masterpiece By Margaretta wa Gacheru Not yet published in Business Daily Written in 2012 While buildings tend to raise and come down in Nairobi so quickly these days that the public barely takes note, the current demolitions have become almost as common as the high-rise flats we see going up all around the town. Yet there is one demolition that resident artist Nani Croze is profoundly concerned about. And that is the former International Casino which since 1988 has contained the largest stained glass panel in all of East Africa. Situated just across from Nairobi National Museum on Museum Hill, the Leopardscape panel is Croze’s creation. Commissioned by Ludovico Gnecci in 1986, it took her and her assistant Mark Young, more than two years to construct the ten meter by three meter stained glass masterpiece, which is now in danger of being utterly demolished if something isn’t done to deter it, and as fast as possible! Which is why Croze is calling out for assistance and requesting: Can she please have her 3000 piece glass panel back? Not that she needs to take the massive welded metal and flat glass ‘canvas’ home with her to Kitengela where her jua kali glass workshop and studio are based. “The issue is not one of ownership but of saving this endangered work of art,” says Croze who would be happy if her Leopardscape went into a museum, church, art center or national art gallery (if only there was one!). “Just as long as the panel is safe.” Assisted in the panel’s installation by skilled Kenyan craftsmen Patrick Omondi and Daniel Harambee, Croze did the design for the monumental panel and Young orchestrated the installing of all 3,000 cut glass pieces, most of which had to be imported either from England, France, Germany or the United States. Meanwhile, the lead required for welding came from Belgium. But what makes the panel so precious is not just the meticulous work required to design and implement this intricate piece of stained glass art. It is also the extraordinary array of wildlife that sparkles through the colourful glass design when natural light comes through. Croze herself is very much a naturalist who got her start in the Kenyan art world back in the mid-1970s when her first job was drawing all sorts of wildlife species for Fleur Ng’weno’s Rainbow children’s magazine. Since then, she has not only painted a myriad of wall murals containing Kenyan wildlife; she has also created clusters of stained glass windows which are situated in a multitude of local churches and private homes all over the countryside. Mark Young, who was a graduate of fine art colleges in the UK, also helped to draw some of the panel animals, which included everything from zebra, wildebeest and ostrich to spiders, scorpions and other insects. There are even monkeys, hyena, water buffalo and bat-eared fox grazing on an expansive savannah plain. Fortunately, the panel still exists, according to Croze who peeks in frequently to check out the panel and ensure that, in spite of all the dust, grime and neglect the stained glass panel has endured, its colorful dawn-like glow remains. It will require careful cleaning once the panel is removed from its current location. But Croze is slightly panicked about the prospect of losing an important part of the artistic legacy she’d like to leave to Kenyans. Unfortunately, Croze didn’t have a chance to send out a hue and cry in a previous case when one church changed its pastor and the new one no longer loved the commissioned stained glass piece of her work. “I never want to go through that terrible experience again,” says Croze who admits that once she heard her windows had been demolished at the particular church, she felt sick. It was as if she had lost one of her children, since for her, creating art is quite similar to giving birth to a new life. So Croze is sounding the alarm and hoping the demolish squad and the developers will think twice about smashing the largest stained glass panel in Kenya. It’s a work of art that ought to remain in some permanent collection where all Kenyans can see and appreciate the Leopardscape.

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