Michael Tetteh, Ghana’s only professional glassblower, clenches his teeth as he grips a red-hot ball of molten glass, his burnt and blistered hands bare against the steaming stack of wet newspaper he uses to protect them.
The 44-year-old toils next to the heat of scrap metal kilns burning at nearly 1 500°C and pregnant with melted windowpanes, TV screens and soda bottles he would soon transform into elaborate vases swirling with psychedelic colour. Some become red vases with streaks of black, others green pitchers and some clear, everyday bottles. He says:
Tetteh’s strict use of recycled materials, which he collects from scrapyards and landfills in the capital, Accra, is part of a stated mission to reduce Ghana’s glass waste and what he considers wasteful imports. He envisions a Ghana free of foreign glass, having channelled its glass bead-making tradition into a modern, multifaceted industry.
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Ghana imports about $300 million (R4.408 billion) worth of glass and ceramic products each year, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity. More than 80% of that comes from China, the world’s top glass exporter.
While some private companies recycle their glass, Tetteh says the majority of Ghana’s glass waste ends up either in landfills or scattered throughout the nation’s streets, which poses a safety hazard.
Hailing from the town of Krobo Odumase, the epicentre of Ghana’s traditional glass bead culture, Tetteh discovered glassblowing in 2012 while spending several months in France and the Netherlands, learning the craft with other Ghanaian bead-makers.
He was alone in his desire to continue when he returned home, and set a goal to establish a proper hot shop in Krobo Odumase.
Undeterred by lack of financing, he built furnaces from scrap metal and clay, using online tutorials. He fine-tuned his abilities watching YouTube videos of famous glass artists such as America’s Dale Chihuly.
He has since hired several young assistants from Krobo Odumase, who he is training and hopes will one day run their own workshops. Their work can be found in boutique shops in Ghana and Ivory Coast, and has appeared in European and American art galleries.
“My heart [wants] to train young Ghanaians, both men and women, so they can learn this job,” he says. “We will not have to go to other countries, such as China, to buy what we want for Ghana.” – Reuters