Sibusiso Mhlanga first started glassblowing in 1979 when Ngwenya Glass was first opened by a Swedish Aid company. He spent 9 months in Sweden training at the world famous Kosta Boda glassworks in Kosta. Here he learned to speak Swedish and was under the tutorship of one of the worlds greatest glassblowers – Jan Erik Ritzman .
On returning to Swaziland , Sibusiso became the production manager, but due to financial problems the company closed down in 1985. For the next 2 years Sibusiso struggled along without permanent employment, and kept himself busy as a backyard motor mechanic. Over this period he had been called upon a number of occasions to show prospective buyers of the factory around, for the liquidators. Nothing came of these visits, as all the professionals who new anything about glass had said that the plant was not viable. They said the factory would never function successfully! So you can imagine Sibusiso’s skepticism when, in 1987, he was asked to join the new owners (a farmer and his wife and their son , a marine engineer) – who’s only knowledge of glass was that it was good to drink out of!
After much coaxing Sibusiso joined the Prettejohn family and together they became a formidable team! He has since trained the entire workforce of 60 people, including blowers, grinders and packers. Sibusiso has visited Jan Erik on a number of occasions in his small studio in Transjo just outside Kosta in Southern Sweden . Jan Erik regularly teaches advanced glassblowing at the Pilchuck Glass School outside Seattle in the USA , and in 1999 he invited Sibusiso to be his assistant. This was a great honour for Sibusiso as well as a great experience.
In February 2005 we had the honour of having one of Holland ‘s, and the worlds, top glass designers working with us for 2 weeks.Peter Bremers introduced us to the “Graal” method of glassblowing and taught Sibusiso and his team of James Magagula, Sifiso Nkambule and Isaac Mamba a few new techniques. Peter also designed a new range of tableware to add to our range, was launched at SARCDA in August 2005 in Johannesburg and was very well received. This range is being used in many prestigious venues around Southern Africa , including Sansibar Restaurant at Fancourt Hotel & Country Club in George, Ulusaba Private Game Reserve and Sabi Sabi to mention just a few.
Peter has also very kindly arranged for Sibusiso to display his artwork in a number of art galleries in Holland . During Peters first visit to Ngwenya Glass he hatched the idea of bringing international renown glassblowers to Swaziland to hold a workshop to educate the designers of the region what a versatile material glass is. This all came together in February 2006, when Peter returned for a second visit, bringing with him Richard Price from Holland and Jan-Erik Ritzman from Sweden . We also invitedDavid Reade from Worcester in the Western Cape . Designers were invited for the weeks workshop, and they arrived from as far as London , Nairobi and Harare , as well as Cape Town , Bloemfontein , Johannesburg and Pretoria .
The majority of the pictures above were taken during this week where the 4 Master Glassblowers (Jan-Erik, Richard, David and Sibusiso) were put to task by the designers under the watchful eye of Peter Bremers. The week ended in a high note with a “Furnace Dinner” on the factory floor. A 3-course meal was served to 114 guests around the furnace whilst the 4 masters each demonstrated a piece of their own design. These pieces were auctioned off the blowpipes, together with another 22 pieces that had been made during the workshop. Funds raised went to the expense of running the workshop and accommodation and flight costs of the master blowers.
The week proved to be a great success and it was decided that this should become an annual event. February proved to be too hot for our European friends and so the 2007 event would be held in July. Unfortunately neither Jan-Erik, nor David Reade were able to make this event, however Peter and Richard returned. This gave us the opportunity to get Sibusiso’s understudy James Magagula, a chance to step up and take charge of his own bench. And step up he certainly did. So impressive was James that Richard invited him to spend some time with him in his studio in Amsterdam. The week once again proved to be a great success, and once again ended with a “furnace dinner” and auction on the factory floor. The proceeds for the dinner and auction were used to help pay for James’ trip.
James was very kindly hosted by Richard in March 2008 and he also managed get out of Amsterdam to work at the famous Royal Leerdam Glassworks and a studio in Belgium. He returned with a new outlook on life ans glass art.
The 2008 workshop took place in July, and together with Peter and Richard, we invited Tim Shaw who is based in Adelaide, Australia. Tim brought a whole new dimension and energy to the event and ended up being the auctioneer on the evening of the furnace dinner. The workshop was attended by a whole new bunch of students and possibly was the most successful of all the previous workshops. One of the results of the workshop is a new range of glasses (Rainbow nation) which you can see on our products page, which have been put into production and have been a great success.
The 2009 workshop took place in early June with Peter, Tim, 1st timer, Marco Lopulalan ( a master blower from the Royal Leerdam Factory in Holland), Sibusiso and James in action with a new group of students, and some of those that have been before. The event was a success, but not as good as 2008. Marco’s first visit to Ngwenya was a memorable one for him, and he left us with a few new techniques that we hope to use in the future.
Dates for the 2010 event have been set from 26 to 31 July, it is not possible to have it in June as per normal because of the FIFA world cup – Go Bafana Bafana – so it was decided to hold it later. The same team will be here and we are hoping to attract some top names in the SA design world. If you are interested in the event, drop us an email.